Equipment failures blamed for Kanawha County slurry spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State investigators have already launched a full scale investigation into what could be the third slurry spill in recent years at Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle prep plant near Winifrede in eastern Kanawha County.

This photo of Fields Creek in eastern Kanawha County was taken on Wednesday.

The latest spill, which happened in the early morning hours on Tuesday, involved as much as 100,000 gallons of slurry — a waste product from coal production — that blackened Fields Creek, a tributary for the Kanawha River.

“It happened and we are doing everything that we can to, first of all, get the environment cleaned up as quickly as possible and, then, to investigate and take the appropriate measures with the company,” said Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday.

Reports indicated the spill was reported to state officials before 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, more than two hours after the line, running from the prep plant to a disposal site, was disconnected and the slurry flow stopped.

The flow into Fields Creek might have continued for several hours.

Early indications are the spill may have started with a broken valve.  Randy Huffman, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said an alarm system, designed to warn of equipment failures, was not working.

“The safeguards that were in place to prevent the mechanical failure from becoming something that has an environmental impact broke down and I’m not sure why yet,” said Huffman.

“As with any kind of a situation like this, there will be a series of violations issued and those violations typically include penalties so there will be violations and penalties.”  He said the investigation will require additional evaluations because of at least two previous spills at the site in 2010.

“We need to go look and see if there’s a pattern of these kinds of violations and that raises it to a different level within the enforcement program,” Huffman said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

In a Tuesday statement, Patriot Coal said the following: “Mine personnel provided notification to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and all pumping related to the slurry line was promptly discontinued and the discharge ceased.  Containment activity began immediately at the site and is continuing in Fields Creek and is our top priority.”

The containment measures were implemented on Fields Creek.

Dale Petry, director of Kanawha County Emergency Services, confirmed some of that slurry did make it to the Kanawha River.

“It traveled down the river about 6/10 of a mile,” Petry said.  “I’m sure there’s been some particles that’s went on further down the river, but they could no longer be seen after approximately 6/10 of a mile.”

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