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coal slurry spill in Inez, Ky. 2003
The coal slurry spill in West Virginia Tuesday morning wasn't nearly as bad as this one in Inez,
Kentucky, 11 years ago, but the risk is always there, especially when regulators don't regulate.
Officials of the state's Department of Environmental Protection don't yet know how much coal slurry has leaked from a facility in Kanawha County, West Virginia. But a DEP spokesman characterized it as "significant."

It has already blackened Fields Creek not far from where it empties into the Kanawha River. State officials and those at West Virginia American Water say the spill is no threat to drinking water supplies. Indeed, Jimmy Gianato, the director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management at the state's Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said: "I don't think there's really anything to it. It turned out to be much of nothing."

That doesn't quite seem to mesh with "significant," but if true, it would be good news after more than a month of worries caused by the 10,000-gallon spill of a chemical mixture—Crude MCHM—from Freedom Industries on the Elk River. That spill did taint drinking water. One elementary school, according to the Charleston Gazette, detected low levels of MCHM in water from a drinking fountain Tuesday morning. Authorities say they will flush it out after school.

Coal slurry can contain far more toxins than just Crude MCHM.

The incident occurred at the Kanawha Eagle operation, which includes a coal preparation plant and a coal slurry impoundment.

Dale Petry, director of emergency services for Kanawha County, said that an eight-inch slurry line between the preparation plant and the company's refuse impoundment ruptured, sending an underdetermined amount of coal waste into the creek before the flow was stopped.

At the Gazette, Ken Ward Jr. noted that in 2009, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement told the DEP in an official report that the state agency was failing to take effective enforcement action to reduce so-called  "blackwater spills" in West Virginia's mining operations. DEP's response? It rejected the OSM's recommendations that it re-examine its rules and policies on such spills, claiming such events were dwindling.

That doesn't seem to be an unusual response from West Virginia officialdumb. In a 169-page report after an explosion killed three at a chemical plant in 2008, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board made a series of recommendations to prevent future chemical accidents. The state ignored them. And when the CSB repeated some of those recommendations after a worker was killed in a chemical accident in 2011, it was ignored again.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 12:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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