Patriot Co. slurry spill in W.Va. violated water discharge permit

Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500,
Cat McCue, Communications Director, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373,
Rob Goodwin, Citizen Enforcement Specialist, Coal River Mountain Watch, 304-712-9854

Test results from water samples taken from Fields Creek the day of the Patriot Coal Co. slurry spill in Kanawha County last month revealed levels of aluminum, iron and solids that violate the company’s Clean Water Act permit, as well as arsenic and lead at levels above drinking water standards, and MCHM, the notorious licorice-smelling chemical that poisoned the tap water of 300,000 West Virginians in a different spill in January.

The samples were taken by Appalachian Voices approximately 12 hours after the spill at the company’s Kanawha Eagle coal preparation plant. Water quality specialists with the nonprofit organization took samples at two locations – one just below the spill in Fields Creek, and a second one about six miles downstream just before the creek enters the Kanawha River. The samples were analyzed at a state-approved lab in Charleston, and a nationally certified lab in Florida.

“It’s incredibly fortunate that no one was immediately harmed by this spill, but the circumstances around the spill and the DEP’s response remain extremely troublesome,” said Erin Savage, water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices. “We don’t intend to let DEP chalk this one up as ‘just another blackwater spill.’ It’s time the agency take the pervasive and historic problems of coal-related water pollution in West Virginia seriously.”

The DEP has yet to disclose the full results of its water testing from the spill, or even say what chemicals were tested. Appalachian Voices, joined by Coal River Mountain Watch, sent a letter to DEP today sharing its test results and calling on the agency to take enforcement action on the permit violations. The groups also called on DEP to ensure it can obtain accurate and timely information about spilled substances in the future and be wholly transparent in sharing information with the public.

>> Letter to DEP and Appalachian Voices’ full lab results

Key findings of Appalachian Voices’ test results:

  • 10 times the amount of total suspended solids allowed by Patriot’s Clean Water Act permit
  • 3 times the level of iron allowed by the permit
  • 2 to 7 times the level of aluminum allowed by the permit
  • 46 parts per billion of Crude MCHM (4-methylcyclohexane methanol), for which there is no state or federal standard; the DEP said it did not find MCHM above 5 ppb
  • Arsenic higher than both the federal and state drinking water standard
  • Lead, iron, beryllium, chromium and selenium at levels above various state and federal standards for drinking water and aquatic life

“Although there are no public drinking water intakes on Fields Creek, it runs directly through a neighborhood where kids can easily come into contact with the water – fishing, wading, looking for crawdads – all the normal things kids do in creeks. My primary concern is for their health, their well being for the long-term,” said Savage.

“In this case, we were lucky that it appears no municipal or private drinking water sources were directly impacted, but the human impact is only one side to this story. The ecological damage done to Fields Creek is immense and cannot be fully repaired with cleanup efforts or fines. The DEP needs to take greater steps to prevent these spills from happening, rather than just reacting to them once they occur,” said Rob Goodwin, citizen enforcement specialist for Coal River Mountain Watch.


Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C.