CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A pipeline ruptured at a coal-processing plant Tuesday, sending 108,000 gallons of coal slurry into a Kanawha River tributary, about 18 miles upstream from where a large chemical spill at a different plant tainted drinking water for 300,000 people a month ago.
West Virginia American Water does not anticipate the slurry spill to affect public drinking water in the Charleston area as last month's chemical leak did. But a state environmental official said it could have "steep consequences" on the environment, especially the river itself.
Slurry from the pipeline at Patriot Coal's Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede in eastern Kanawha County spilled into six miles of Fields creek and one-half mile of the Kanawha River, said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman.
The leak lasted from about 2:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., but could have been stopped more quickly and confined if the plant's alarm system worked. The DEP is investigating why it failed, he said.
Last month, the prep plant discontinued the use of crude MCHM — the chemical involved in a Jan. 9 spill at a Freedom Industries plant in Charleston — about 18 miles downriver — that tainted the local water supply for days. Huffman said the plant now uses Polyethylene glycol, which is considered non-carcinogenic. The slurry does contain heavy metals and other toxins, however, and "when this much coal slurry goes into a stream, it wipes the stream out," Huffman said.
Janine Orf, Vice President of Investor Relations at Patriot Coal, said in a statement that cleanup at the site is underway "and will continue until state regulatory officials determine the spill is remediated."
Water from Fields Creek is being pumped into a container so the creek bed can be vacuumed of black materials, Huffman said. Solids in the creek water will settle inside the container and be gleaned, he said.
As a precaution, Huffman said the DEP has notified Mason County officials because of well fields about 75 miles away from the spill as well other industries that draw water from the creek. Water samples have been taken from both Kanawha River and Fields Creek for testing.