Investigation, cleanup continues in coal slurry spill
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is continuing its investigation and overseeing the cleanup of a coal slurry spill that occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 11 at Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede.
Kanawha Eagle is under an Imminent Harm Cessation Order, issued by the WVDEP soon after the spill, for creating conditions not allowable in state waters. The Order, which halts all work at the prep plant, except for cleanup activities, will remain in effect until the company has eliminated the potential for further pollution.
The spill, which began sometime after 2:30 a.m., is believed to have been associated with a faulty valve in the slurry pipe line. The company estimates that approximately 108,000 gallons of slurry entered Fields Creek and impacted roughly six miles of the stream. Fields Creek empties into the Kanawha River near Chesapeake. Kanawha Eagle officials discovered the spill around 5:30 a.m. and shut down the slurry pumps, which remain inactive at this time. The state Emergency Spill Line was notified by the company at 7:42 a.m.
Inspectors with the WVDEP Division of Mining and Reclamation remain at the scene today. Cleanup efforts are ongoing with the goal being to stop the flow of slurry-impacted water into the Kanawha River. The company has installed check dams, or barriers, throughout Fields Creek in an attempt to slow the flow of the stream, drop solids and clear the water. Solids are then pumped from the stream using vac trucks. Barriers include rock, hay bales and silt fencing. The company also is pumping water from the stream near the prep plant into settling ponds.
Once Fields Creek is clear, an evaluation will be made on how cleanup of residual material remaining from the slurry spill will be removed. The company is required to perform an aquatic life assessment in conjunction with the cleanup.
The spill is not expected to have a major impact on the Kanawha River. Evidence of slurry was observed in the Kanawha River on Tuesday, approximately one-half mile downstream from the mouth of Fields Creek, but dissipated shortly after.
The nearest surface water public intake downstream of the spill is in Huntington, approximately 115 stream miles away. The nearest ground water public intake downstream is in Mason, approximately 75 miles from the spill site. The Mason PSD draws its public water from groundwater, but has the potential to pull some river water through the soils into its intake. Both Huntington and Mason water officials were notified Tuesday of the spill. The Ohio EPA and industrial water users downstream were notified as well.
Kanawha Eagle officials said the prep plant was not using MCHM in its coal cleaning process. The company informed the WVDEP later in the day Tuesday that it had phased the chemical out of its cleaning process in mid-January and replaced it with polypropylene glycol.
DEP inspectors on Tuesday collected water samples at several locations on Fields Creek and in the Kanawha River and are awaiting results.