Bookmark and Share

Mountaintop Removal


Case Studies
Concerns in the Appalachia
Sludge Dam Disasters
 
As long as they've been built, sludge dams have posed a risk to coal field residents. The devastation rought by their past failures has at times stoked the flames of anti-mountaintop removal movements, even though coal sludge is a product of both underground and surface-mined coal. The following three disasters are emblazened into the public memory, and no story of coal mining is complete without an introduction to them.

Buffalo Creek Flood
Feb. 26, 1972: The Buffalo Creek Flood swept through the Buffalo Creek Hollow in Logan County, W.Va.  when Pittston Coal Company's coal sludge impoundment Dam #3 burst under heavy rain. Four days prior, it had been declared 'satisfactory' by a federal mine inspector.

 
Sixteen coal mining hamlets were nestled in the Buffalo Creek hollow. The flood unleashed 132 million gallons of black and grey sludge, sending a wave cresting at over 30ft high, upon the hollow's residents. Of the hollow's 5,000 residents, 125 were killed, 1,121 injured, and over 4,000 left homeless. 551 homes and 30 businesses were destroyed. In its legal filings, Pittston Coal referred to the accident as "an Act of God."

Dam #3 had been constructed of coarse mining refuse dumped into the Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek starting in 1968, and was the first of three dams to fail. Having overwhelemed Dam #3, the water cascaded into Dams #2 and #1, bursting through their walls and into the hollow. Dam #3 had been built on top of coal slurry sediment that had collected behind dams # 1 and #2, instead of on solid bedrock. Dam #3 was appoximately 260 feet above the town of Saunders when it failed.
 


Martin County Sludge Spill
Oct. 11, 2000: The Martin County Sludge Spill happened when the bottom of a Massey Energy-owned impoundment collapsed, spilling sludge into an abandoned underground mine below. This incident propelled 306 million gallons of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River.
 
The Tug Fork is a tributary of the Big Sandy River , 154 mi long, in southwestern West Virginia, Southwest Virginia Virginia, and eastern Kentucky.
The spill polluted hundreds of miles of waterways.
 
 
Tennessee Valley Authority Coal Ash Spill
Dec. 22, 2008: Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston plant in Harriman, TN, had a retention pond wall collapse which unleashed a torrent of coal ash laden water which flooded 12 homes, spilled into nearby Watts Bar Lake, and contaminated the Emory River. Coal Ash is the solid waste that remains after coal is burnt in power plants and is often stored in water retention ponds. Officials estimated that 400 acres of land were covered in 4 to 6 feet of waste. Hundreds of fish were floating dead downstream from the plant. Water tests showed elevated levels of lead and thallium.

Source: SourceWatch.org
 
Originally TVA estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of waste had burst through the storage facility. Company officials said the pond had contained a total of about 2.6 million cubic yards of sludge. However, the company revised its estimates on December 26, when it released an aerial survey showing that 5.4 million cubic yards (1.09 billion gallons) of fly ash was released from the storage facility. Several days later, the estimate was increased to over 1 billion gallons spilled.