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Coal slurry injection back before WVa lawmakers

As reported by the The Associated Press in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Dismissing a recent state study as inadequate, activists who oppose the underground injection of coal slurry told lawmakers Wednesay the practice should be banned outright as a precaution.

They also want a state health department study on the health effects of the practice to start by gathering new data from residents who live near sites where coal waste is injected underground.

Members of the Sludge Safety Project told a water resources interim committee that until the health effects, if any, of coal slurry are known, the practice should be considered unsafe.

“We don’t know the full impact of slurry, but we ask our legislators to use the precautionary principle,” said Boone County resident Maria Lambert.

Last month, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman told lawmakers that the agency will start requiring coal companies that use underground injection to dispose of coal waste at 13 sites around the state to start monitoring for potential pollution problems.

Following the completion earlier this year of a DEP report on coal slurry, the agency also instituted a moratorium on slurry injection at new mines.

Members of the group, which includes environmentalists, ex-miners and residents of areas near injection sites, said that report doesn’t answer essential questions about how coal waste effects ground water supplies.

“They did not complete the mandate given to them by the Legislature,” said Joe Stanley, a former miner who lives in Wayne County.

The agency said it wants to give time for all the report’s recommendations to be implemented before considering any changes of course.

“We appreciate the feedback from the citizens who spoke today, and as we implement recommendations that were made in the study in the coming months, we will certainly take into consideration the comments made by the group today,” DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said.

The group also aired concerns about a second phase of the study given to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The DHHR study is intended to find if coal slurry has any effects on human health.

For the study, the DHHR has contracted with West Virginia University to produce a report by the end of the year. The contract requires WVU to seek data from a diverse array of sources, and the activists want the Legislature to ensure those sources include studies of people who work with coal slurry and live near injection sites.

Ben Stout, a biologist at Wheeling Jesuit University who has been studying slurry injection for four years, told the lawmakers that health researchers should start with workers at coal preparation plants, who have years of exposure to slurry, and then move on to residents.

“We believe the DEP is putting us all at risk by pretending they’re regulating coal slurry,” Lambert said.

Coal slurry is a byproduct of cleaning coal after it is mined.

For decades, coal companies in Appalachia have injected slurry into mined out deep mines as a cheap alternative to building massive dams or to filtration and drying systems. In theory, solids settle to the bottom of pools inside sealed mine voids, and all the waste stays put, with little risk to groundwater below.

The industry defends the practice as safe. But critics say the earth continues to shift and crack long after mining has ended, whether through natural settling or human activity such as nearby blasting. They say that lets slurry migrate.




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