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West Virginia Coal Spill Nothing New: Coal Degrades Ohio Water Quality Every Day

Ohio Environmental Council, February 14, 2014

West Virginia’s latest spill of more than 100,000 gallons of toxic coal slurry has people wondering how yet another massive spill has occurred in that state.

The spill reportedly has impacted some six miles of Fields Creek in the Charleston area of West Virginia. It happened in the same general area as the toxic coal chemical spill last month that tainted drinking water for some 300,000 people in and around Charleston, WV.

Environmental advocates point out that Ohioans need look no further than our own Buckeye State for evidence of coal’s toxic toll on our waterways and wildlife.

“Tuesday’s slurry spill is one in a long line of water pollution events in the Appalachian region–including Ohio–directly tied to the coal industry,” said Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council.

Coal-related water pollution and stream destruction has wrecked damage on Ohio, as well.  Illegal discharges from a coal slurry impoundment in Belmont County turned 22 miles of Captina Creek black in 2008. A 2010 spill at the same impoundment killed more than 4,000 fish and other wildlife.

A few days before Christmas 2008 In Harriman, Tennessee, a coal ash dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant broke, releasing 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, destroying three homes and damaging a dozen others. By volume, this spill is the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history – 100 times greater than the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 and 5 times larger than the BP Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. 

In addition to illegal coal waste spills, coal mining operations pollute and degrade Appalachia’s water quality on a daily basis through permitted wastewater discharges. In 2011, the United States EPA formally recognized that Appalachian coal mining operations regularly discharge pollutants like sulfates and total dissolved solids (TDS) at levels that kill and seriously impair aquatic organisms.( http://goo.gl/Z1gN6s)

Nevertheless, many coal mines in Ohio operate under expired Clean Water Act permits that allow the continued discharge of toxic levels of sulfates and TDS.

“We believe the state is dragging its feet, allowing coal mine owners to operate under old, expired permits. Instead, Ohio should insist that coal operators secure new permits that require more protective environmental standards and conditions,” Johnson said. “Until that happens, coal mining will continue to extract a daily toll on Ohio’s streams.”

The mission of the Ohio Environmental Council (www.theOEC.org) is to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home. The OEC is a network of more than 100 local and state environmental-conservation organizations.