WVDEP ‘clarifies’ Prenter water study findings

January 25, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Following up on a tip from a Coal Tattoo reader, I passed a question on to state officials about the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection’s study of the water in the Prenter area of Boone County … here’s a press release that resulted from that reader’s careful eye:

Triad Engineering has confirmed an error in a study it conducted for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on water supplies in the Prenter area of Boone County.

The study, which included the sampling of 33 domestic wells, was released on Tuesday and did not reveal evidence of widespread mining-induced impacts to groundwater quality in the study area. However, Triad said one laboratory sample of a domestic well exceeded the primary drinking water standard for lead.

Although the agency and Triad Engineering staff carefully reviewed the data, this parameter was accidentally overlooked by both.

“While this does not change the overall scope of the study, exceeding the drinking water standard for lead is serious and we are glad this error was found,” said Randy C. Huffman, cabinet secretary for the DEP.

A citizen who read the study pointed out the error.

The owner of the well with the elevated lead value lives in an area served by public water. The DEP is trying to reach the owner to make him aware of the finding and will investigate the cause of the elevated lead levels.

None of the other 32 wells sampled in the study area exceeded the primary drinking water standards for metals.

“We have reviewed the domestic well data once again and confirmed that no other values exceeded the primary drinking water standards in the domestic wells.  The value was not highlighted on the spreadsheet and not called out in the report due to human error,” said John Meeks, lead geologist with Triad Engineering.”

7 Responses to “WVDEP ‘clarifies’ Prenter water study findings”

  1. Dell Spade says:

    Most likely copper plumbing using lead solder. Lead is not a common natural metal in this area

  2. Edd442 says:

    Well, I’m glad this was addressed, but it does raise the question of how thoroughly the report was compiled? Lead is an extremely dangerous contaminant. The fact that the landowner had not been contacted yet about it, until this was publicly pointed out, is also concerning. What else has been overlooked? How much confidence can we place in this report?
    I am disappointed by the lack of site-specific groundwater modeling and mapping in the report as well. The report cites general groundwater concepts, but there are no site-specific maps or cross-sections of the area detailing the geologic strata and hydrologic gradient. Without this information, it is impossible to conjecture whether or not potential sources of contamination are migrating toward drinking water wells.

  3. Vernon says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that Triad isn’t exactly an unbiased third party. Their website lists several mining services including refuse disposal facility design, impoundment design, environmental permitting, surface mine surveying and mapping, and reclamation liability audits: http://www.triadeng.com/documents/mining.pdf. If DEP was aiming for credibility with this study, they missed the mark. I’d be interested in knowing what work they’ve done for any of the companies mentioned in the Prenter lawsuit.

  4. William says:

    This is a subject that nobody ever gonna agree on If u can believe this report then surface mining does nothing to hurt the water

  5. heather says:

    Is there any push for independent scientific review of these studies? To me, it seems to be that the question in Prenter and many coal field communities is not “if” wells are contaminated it is “under what conditions” wells are contaminated. It is my understanding that there is visible, documented evidence that Prenter has experienced “black water events” where coal slurry or some product of coal has reached household drinking water sources. Is this true? I know it has been observed elsewhere.

    A scientific study that looks at the conditions under which household water becomes contaminated would start with a process like this:
    – Where have black water events happened in the past?
    – What do we know about the area around the locations where black water events have been observed – geology, hydrology, depth of wells, etc.
    – To the best of our knowledge, what are all the possible causes of black water events? Do local residents have suggestions for when these occur and how often and common events that lead up to them?
    – Do we have records of blasting, heavy rains, amount of surface cover disturbed in proximity to where these have occurred?
    – Do residents have samples that they collected during the last black water event? Could they please collect one or two next time it happens?

    It seems that daily water quality monitoring by someone living in the household for water clarity/odor/turbidity and perhaps conductivity would be more productive than one time samples NOT during a black water event.

    Anyone know about a independent science panel or been in touch with Union of Concerned Scientists or a smilar group about this?

  6. Thank you for your extremely insightful comments Heather. This is exactly the approach that we have advocated. There is extensive qualitative and some quantitative evidence of well water contamination, albeit sometimes episodic. When water runs from the tap black and red, it’s not a question of “if” but of “when” and “why”? Much of this information is available directly from the DEP’s own records, making it doubly surprising that the information wasn’t taken into account.

    Residents have a long track record of monitoring the water and making reports. There are citizen complaints (anyone can request the records from the DEP) of black water from cold water taps inside the home going back many years – I can think of one from 2004 and one from 2007 off the top of my head. These complaints were consistently dismissed by the DEP and citizens stopped calling them as often. One of the great flaws of their report is a failure to look at compliance history of the mining operations. A read through the permits document multiple spill events, serious compliance issues with discharges (particularly of manganese), and violation of injectate limits for lead among other things. The most egregious incident occurred on February 25th, 2006. The Lexerd Surface Mine cut too close to the old Chesterfield #1 mine in the Stockton seam and caused a blowout that flooded the mining pit and blackened Laurel Creek for 4 days in front of residents’ home. To make matters worse, Inspector Benny Campbell raised concerns about high discharge from this old mine and warned Massey in very strong language of the danger of mining in this area just 11 days before the blowout. The kicker? As the Triad report states, the Chesterfield #1 mine had large volumes of slurry injected into it in the 1980s. The inspection reports are here: http://dep-foia.org/permits/full/S502401/files/S502401-0193.pdf

    From neglect of many potential sources additional data to the missed lead hit to the simple fact that on Page 1 of the report they misnamed a portion of the community “Nolan” instead of the true name “Nelson”, the report reeks of shoddy work. To tell people it is categorically safe to drink their water based on this is at best irresponsible, at worse it constitutes reckless endangerment of a whole community. Fortunately, many Prenter residents know better than to take the DEP’s word for it.

  7. heather says:

    Thank-you Matthew for heightening my understanding about Prenter in several significant ways and for pointing to the important additional information sources including inspector reports, citizen complaints, and the dramatic case when Laurel Creek ran black for 4 days.

    Has there been talk of an independent scientific review panel for these studies? This would be a panel of experts from other areas who have recognized expertise in fate and transport of contaminants in the environment, specifically surface/ground water interactions.

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