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DEP Responds To Concerns Over Coal Slurry Spill

Reported: Feb. 11, 2014 10:54 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) The investigation continues into what happened to cause a seal and valve on a double containment wall to break, allowing possibly 108,000 gallons of coal slurry to come bubbling out and why an alarm system in place to detect such problems didn't go off at the Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant in Winifrede. The good news--the Department of Environmental Protection says the leaked slurry is not as hazardous as first thought., and steps are being taken to make sure no one's health is at risk.

It's now an all-too-familiar scare: a chemical leaking into water. Sometime between midnight and 5 a.m. Tuesday, coal slurry quickly filled up Fields Creek in Winifrede. People living in the area were panicked when news broke that slurry might contain MCHM, which is the same chemical that leaked from a Freedom Industries tank January 9th, and contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 people.

"Somebody needs to take care of it. That's what their job is--to make sure everybody has safe drinking water," said Leah Hill said.

The slurry came from the Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant, owned by Patriot Coal. Once the DEP arrived on scene, it learned the slurry was far less toxic than initially thought because after the spill at Freedom, Patriot's operation in Winifrede quit using MCHM, and started using something called polypropylene glycol.

"Non-hazardous as expected, incidental to exposure, a non-carcinogen, prolonged contact will not likely cause skin irritation. So it's something that is at least less of a health concern in significantly higher quantities than MCHM," said Randy Huffman with WV DEP.

Neighbors still reported the familiar licorice smell of MCHM, and the DEP says came from a tank left on the property, which is now being hauled away. While the health risk appears low, and the chemical will dilute and dissolve in the water as it flows, there's still a significant impact from this spill.

"When this much coal slurry goes into a stream, it wipes the stream out That's a significant environmental impact and there are significant and steep consequences for this," said Huffman.

A major concern for the DEP is how systems in place at the plant failed, and why the company waited at least two hours to report the spill, and even longer to start damming off the water, when the law requires them to report it and begin containing the spill immediately. It also begs a bigger question...

Eyewitness News asked, "Obviously we're here on the heels of a major water crisis because of another chemical spill...So what are you going to do to stop this stuff from happening?"

"Yeah. I need time to assess what's happened on Fields Creek, but maybe there needs to be a top down review of all their processes. Maybe there's a cultural change in that company that needs to take place that has more of an emphasis on safety, environmental controls, and things like that," Huffman said.

The facility where the slurry spilled Tuesday, apparently has been fined for violations in the past, and prep plants like it are actually required to be inspected at least four times a year. Patriot Coal has not responded to our requests for comment about this spill.



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