Groups Act to Protect Waterways Harmed by Notorious Brushy Fork Sludge Lake

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Groups Act to Protect Waterways Harmed by Notorious Brushy Fork Sludge Lake

Two Alpha Natural Resources Owned Facilities Violate Clean Water Safeguards in West Virginia

Charleston, W. Va - Today, a coalition of citizen and environmental groups took action to stop pollution from two coal mining facilities operated by Alpha Natural Resources subsidiaries Marfork Coal and Independence Coal in West Virginia. The groups found that the Marfork-owned Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment and the Independence-owned Crescent No. 2 Surface Mine are both violating key protections in the Clean Water Act and surface mining laws. The groups bringing the suit, Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club, are seeking to compel the Alpha-owned companies to install protections that will ensure selenium and other toxins no longer pollute local rivers and streams. 

“Brushy Fork has engendered fear and dread in citizens seemingly forever,” said Jim Sconyers, Chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “This legal action will dispel at least one component of that dread - the needless and unlawful pollution of streams that are a key part of citizen’s lives.” 

The Brushy Fork Slurry impoundment is the largest of its kind in West Virginia. The impoundment - which holds seven billion gallons of coal sludge and waste from nearby coal operations - is believed to be the largest earthen dam in the western hemisphere. Citizen groups, hydrologists and even the United Mine Workers have raised significant concerns over the dam’s size and structural integrity. Many local residents are deeply concerned about their ability to evacuate safely in case of failure. Should Brushy Fork fail it would be even more catastrophic than the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster which killed 125 people when 132 million gallons of coal slurry broke through an earthen dam. 

“Should the Brushy Fork dam fail, the results would be immediately catastrophic,” said Vivian Stockman, Project Coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “But the ongoing pollution violations from these sites are a slow-motion catastrophe for the health of nearby communities and for the health of our democracy. These companies should not be violating laws as a routine part of doing business, and the state regulators should not routinely let them get away with it.” 

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant. 

“Whether it be the potential safety hazards of the looming Brushy Fork Sludge Dam or the less visible dangers of toxic selenium pollution, the dangers are real and the need to address the ongoing widespread water quality damage from selenium discharges is urgent,“ said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. 

"Once again, the citizens being harmed by Alpha's 'running right over us' policy of pollution must sue because the WV DEP is either unfit or unwilling to perform its mandated duties,” said Vernon Haltom, Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Alpha must understand that our streams and back yards are not their waste dumps, and the WV DEP must understand that the health and safety of communities must come before company profits." 

Coal River Mountain Watch, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club are represented in this matter by Derek Teaney and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.

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