Just as West Virginians were starting to recover from the disastrous chemical spill into the Elk River, they face a new threat to their health: a coal slurry spill that has poisoned a Kanawha County stream.
Over 100,000 gallons of coal slurry have spilled into the stream, allegedly due to a malfunctioning valve in an eight-inch pipeline operated by the Patriot Coal Corporation. The valve supposedly broke early in the morning, but Patriot Coal did not alert the state Department of Environmental Protection until several hours later. Coal slurry consists of liquid and solid waste from the mining and preparation process. It typically contains metals that are considered toxic, like manganese and selenium. While Patriot Coal officials are quick to claim that the spill will not have significant consequences, the spill occurred along a six-mile stretch of Fields Creek, which runs into the Kanawha River.
The most fortunate thing for West Virginia residents is that unlike the Elk River chemical spill, the coal slurry spill does not have an immediate impact upon their supply of drinking water. Another fortunate thing is that MCHM, the chemical that predominated in the Elk River spill, was not used in the coal slurry mixture as originally thought. The chemical that replaced it, polypropylene glycol, was just a small part of the mixture, Patriot Coal officials claim.
That said, just because the spill does not have the same immediate impact on human health and quality of life does not mean it has none. Residents in the area have long expressed concerns about the long-term effects of coal slurry spills, as well as a proposed method of disposal: injecting coal slurry into the ground. The most deadly coal slurry spill took place in 1972, when 132 million gallons burst through dams at Buffalo Creek Hollow, killed 118 people, and left 4,000 people homeless. This most recent spill was the third coal slurry incident since 2010 at this site. In October 2010, a slurry line broke and tainted three miles of stream, causing the company to be fined $22,400. This past November, another coal slurry spill led Patriot Coal to be fined just $663.
So while there is no present sign that this most recent spill will lead to a wave of lawsuits like the Elk River spill, that does not mean there will be none. If local residents find that their water is tainted, or their property in any way harmed due to the spill’s effects, some may be compelled to hire a West Virginia personal injury attorney and file a lawsuit. In the meantime, after being criticized for not enforcing environmental regulations strictly, it appears that West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials may be prepared to get tougher on businesses.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia attorney, contact us today.