Rolling down the river

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 17, 2000

&ltA Allen Blair

Thick coal sludge oozing into the Ohio River today should not affect local water supplies, Ironton officials said.

Tuesday, October 17, 2000

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Thick coal sludge oozing into the Ohio River today should not affect local water supplies, Ironton officials said.

"I don’t see any immediate threat to the citizens of Ironton," Mayor Bob Cleary said late Monday. "We feel like we can treat it from the information we have today, but we won’t know for sure until we sample it."

The worst case?

Ironton will fall back on its storage system – a three-day, 3 million gallon supply – until the sludge passes, Cleary said.

Such a decision would come today, but probably won’t happen, the mayor said.

Since Wednesday morning, work crews from Martin County Coal Corp. in Inez, Ky., have been trying to clean up the molasses-like coal waste material – 200 million gallons of it – that leaked from a retention pond at the company’s coal preparation plant.

The sludge continued to ooze like black lava along two mountain streams toward the Big Sandy River.

The situation forced Kentucky officials to declare a state of emergency Monday. Car washes and schools were closed in an attempt to save whatever clean water remained.

The leading edge of the black water also had reached the Ohio River, forcing the cities of Inez, Louisa and Kermit, W.Va., to close their water intakes.

Boyd County, Ky., emergency officials said the edge of the slurry passed the Calgon Carbon Corp. plant Monday morning.

On Friday, the EPA notified city officials, who have kept close watch on the situation, water superintendent Jennifer Donohue said.

Mrs. Donohue was optimistic Monday that samples of the sludge will show city treatment plant intakes won’t have to be shut down.

"If Ashland’s treating it, we will get samples and run tests to see if we can treat it," she said.

The Ironton plant uses a coagulating agent to cause solid matter to fall out of water. The lab tests, expected today, will show whether or not the coagulating agent will work on the sludge, too, Mrs. Donohue said.

"If we’re not able to treat it, we won’t bring it into the plant."

If that happens, the city would likely issue a conservation notice to reduce water use until the sludge passes, Cleary said.

The mayor’s office received several dozen calls Monday about the sludge but there is no truth to the rumors people are hearing, he added.

"If we can filter it, we’ll keep on running it," Cleary said. "If we can’t, we should know (today) and we’ll be fine with our storage."

The Kentucky Department of Surface Mining issued four citations Friday to the company for engaging in an unsafe practice by allowing the material to escape.

Environmental experts don’t know how long it will take or how much it will cost to remove the massive glob of coal sediment.

No people were injured by the leak, but authorities said fish and other wildlife have been killed. The state mining agency has ordered the company to replenish all fish and other aquatic life in the creeks.

Crews from Martin County Coal and its parent company, A.T. Massey Coal Inc., have been building rock dams along the affected creeks to try to slow the flow of the material.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.