Coal Tattoo

More questions about slurry safety

Vicki Smith over at The Associated Press has another story out today, with more questions about the safety of injecting coal slurry underground.

I’ve posted the story on the Gazette’s Mining the Mountains page here.

Here’s the bottom line:

Regulators in a handful of Appalachian states that let coal companies inject slurry into abandoned mines say they’re confident the practice is safe, but an Associated Press survey shows they lack scientific data to answer citizens who believe aquifers, water wells and their own health are at risk.

None of the five states contacted by AP has studied the chemical composition of slurry, a byproduct left when clay, sulfur and other impurities are removed from coal to make it burn more efficiently. For decades, slurry has been injected into abandoned, underground mines in Appalachia as a cheap alternative to building massive dams or filtration and drying systems.

But hundreds of West Virginians are suing coal companies in two cases, claiming chemicals and metals in the slurry have leaked into aquifers, contaminated well water and caused health problems ranging from kidney disease to cancer.

An e-mail survey of environmental regulators in West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Ohio found none of the states track exactly how much slurry is pumped underground.

Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Smith that injection sites are chosen with health and safety — not just geology — as primary concerns. If the practice weren’t safe, he adds, EPA wouldn’t allow it.

But Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition said,  “There’s just a complete lack of oversight by any of the agencies that are supposed to be regulating this. In our opinion, this is hazardous waste and it should be regulated and monitored.”

As Coal Tattoo reported yesterday:

In the Prenter area of Boone County, lawyers for resident this week asked Circuit Judge William S. Thompson to order a halt to underground slurry injections. Attorneys John Sutter and Roger Decanio note that Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury issued a similar order in the Rawl area.

Citing high levels of toxic materials they believe are leaching from the slurry into drinking water supplies, Sutter and Decanio argue: “The coal industry has plausible options in which to process coal. The residents of Prenter and Seth do not have an alternative as it pertains to their health.”