Our Story - The Slurry Coal Spill
We found out that a creek about 18 miles north of the Cahaba River is being polluted with coal sludge. A hunter was walking in the woods and found a drainage pipe that was pouring coal sludge right into the creek. This creek runs into the Cahaba River.
What is coal sludge?
Before coal is taken to be sold, it is washed to get the soil and rock off of it. The cleaner the coal is, the more money the company will get for the coal because it will be a higher quality. It also costs less to transport it because the extra weight of the dirt and rock is not calculated.
The coal is washed and the liquid off of the coal is full of dirt, rocks, and other impurities. The coal companies say the sludge is mostly water, rocks, and mud. Sludge also contains chemicals that can cause cancer. The chemicals are used to process coal. The sludge also contains toxic heavy metals found in coal, such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium, boron, selenium, and nickel.
The company pouring the coal sludge into the creek was fined $50,000 by ADEM and most people agree this is not a very big fine. The company has been shut down by ASMC (Alabama Surface and Mining Commission). ADEM was set up by the Alabama Environmental Management Act. It is an agency that manages all major federal laws that have to do with the environment. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts are a few of these laws.
This is an email that Mr. Haddock sent about the spill.
A deer hunter friend recently notified us of a potential problem in the
Gurnee area. He observed a large amount of a black material that had been
dumped on the ground and had run off into a tributary. Since then we have
found a location where the material, which I believe is coal slurry from a
shaft-mine operation, has been deliberately piped and discharged to at
least one tributary to Piney Woods Creek, itself a tributary to the Cahaba
River. Piney Woods Creek enters the Cahaba about 18.5 miles upstream from
ADEM is currently investigating. Two inspectors accompanied me on Dec 6th.
It was at that time we discovered a pipe similar to the one with discharge
on the ground below it (9150) was apparently flowing with something. We
followed that to a shaft mine operation, whereupon they did an inspection.
They returned the following day to do a "full inspection". I've gotten
little word back from them since then. We have written a letter to Steve
Jenkins, Chief of Field Operations Division encouraging him to fine the
company and require them to clean up what I'll show you below:
When we followed the trail of black material down from the pipe (9150) we
found a flat section of the tributary where the material had accumulated to
a depth of three feet (9129 through 9133). Following the tributary, we
eventually came to Piney Woods Creek just below its confluence with Murray
Creek. A "bar" of the slurry material was obvious there (9142).
Last Sunday I hiked into the river and paddle a short way to the confluence
of Piney Woods Creek with the Cahaba. There was a black coating on the
Piney Woods Cr streambank about three feet high (9225). If you scraped off
that material, you found the natural streambank alluvium beneath it (9214).
We told ADEM we thought these images suggest that a very large volume of
the coal slurry has been discharged. We asked them to fine the responsible
party and make them clean-up the slurry remaining in the unnamed ephemeral
trib to Piney Woods Creek.
Thought you folks might want to know why you get those coal fines washing
up on the sandy beaches of the refuge. If you have any questions, please
let me know.
Photos courtesy of Randy Haddock, The Cahaba River Society