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Sludge no worry for area

Thick coal sludge trickling into the Ohio River will likely leave Ironton’s water resources unharmed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Thick coal sludge trickling into the Ohio River will likely leave Ironton’s water resources unharmed.

"If Kenova (W.Va.) is treating it off the Big Sandy and having no problems, we shouldn’t have any problems treating it off the Ohio," said Jennifer Donahue, Ironton water superintendent.

Mrs. Donahue also tested samples of Big Sandy water in recent days, which showed the sludge will settle out with Ironton’s type of coagulation treatment.

After settling, the water is only slightly different than muddy water commonly seen in the Ohio, she said.

Then, Tuesday’s call from Kenova water plant officials, who said they were treating the sludge water just fine, left Ironton officials optimistic, she added.

"I don’t think we will be impacted if it ever gets here."

The sludge, actually about 250 million gallons of coal dust and waste left over from treating coal, leaked from a Martin County Coal Corp. coal preparation plant pond in Inez, Ky. on Oct. 11.

The sludge oozed like black lava along two mountain streams into the Big Sandy River, moving slowly.

Its leading edge was detected Friday in the Ohio River, three miles downstream from the mouth of the Big Sandy.

As of Monday, testing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission showed no increase in turbidity – a measure of the muddy-like particles in water – in the Ohio River.

That’s good news, Mrs. Donahue said.

Monitors at the plant show normal river water, after treatment, has a turbidity level of about 0.03 to 0.04; the plant’s goal is 0.1, and 95 percent of monthly samples must fall below 0.5, she said.

Ironton’s tests of the Big Sandy sludge show the turbidity level fell from 635 to 2.5 after only the settling treatment, Mrs. Donahue said.

The Ironton plant’s sand and anthracite filters and other treatments will take care of it from there, she said.

Corps and ORSANCO officials say that, even though elevated turbidity levels are found in the Big Sandy, water treatment facilities can generally treat water at turbidity five times the level now being measured.

Still, the city will wait and see until it gets here, Mrs. Donahue said.

Once sludge-tainted river water reaches Ironton’s intake next to the Ironton-Russell Bridge, it will undergo the plant’s normal treatment process.

Three low-lift pumps brings water up into pre-settling basins, where materials are added to control taste and Zebra mussels. It then moves into detention tanks where it is mixed with alum and other coagulating aides, Mrs. Donahue said.

Afterward, water sits in a clarifying tank where it moves through a blanket-type filter and suspended solids are removed. Clarified water moves through pipes into the plant for filtering, chlorine and other treatment.