CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State environmental officials have ordered all but cleanup work halted at a Patriot Coal coal preparation plant that spilled more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry into Fields Creek in Kanawha County on Tuesday.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said in a news release that the imminent harm cessation order issued at Patriot's Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant near Winifrede on Tuesday will remain in effect "until the company has eliminated the potential for further pollution."
Officials believe a valve malfunctioned in a slurry line at the preparation plant sometime after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, allowing 108,000 gallons of coal slurry to escape into the creek about six miles above the Kanawha River. Alarms on the pipeline system apparently malfunctioned, and slurry continued to be pumped into the creek until the spill was discovered about 5:30 a.m.
Aluise said DEP was not notified of the spill until about 7:40 a.m.
Environmental officials originally thought that MCHM, the same chemical released into the Elk River on Jan. 9 from a Freedom Industries tank farm, was also leaked into Fields Creek, but DEP later learned Kanawha Eagle had stopped using MCHM in January. Officials now believe the slurry instead contained polypropylene glycol.
Chesapeake Mayor Damron Bradshaw said he did not learn about the slurry spill until he read about it in the newspaper. Chesapeake is just downstream of the spill site.
"If it's six miles up the hollow it will eventually make it to the river," Bradshaw said. "I'm sure it's going to destroy the aquatic life [in the creek]."
Aluise said the nearest public surface water intake is in Huntington, about 115 miles downstream. The nearest public groundwater intake is in Mason, about 75 miles from the spill site. Aluise said water officials in Huntington and Mason have been notified of the spill, and the Ohio EPA and industrial water users downstream have also been told.
Aluise said DEP inspectors remained onsite Wednesday, with cleanup efforts aimed at trying to keep contaminated water from reaching the Kanawha River. Check dams were set up along Fields Creek to slow down the water flow using rock, hay bales and silt fences. Solids were being pumped from the stream using vacuum trucks, and water from the stream near the plant was being pumped into settling ponds.
DEP inspectors also took water samples along Fields Creek and in the Kanawha River on Tuesday and are waiting on results, Aluise said.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.