CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Alpha Natural Resources will have to clean up selenium pollution at three of the mountaintop removal mines it bought from Massey Energy, under a legal settlement with environmental groups announced Monday.
The Sierra Club said Alpha would spend at least $50 million on the cleanups, which cover the company's Twilight and Red Cedar operations in Boone County and the Kanawha Division along the Kanawha-Fayette County line.
Alpha reached the deal with lawyers for the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other groups to resolve a federal court lawsuit the citizens filed over repeated selenium violations.
The settlement, which must receive approval from U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, is the latest success by lawyers from the Appalachian Mountain Advocates in forcing major coal producers to deal with selenium pollution.
Previously, environmental groups worked out a selenium settlement with Arch Coal and won a favorable ruling that requires Patriot Coal to install new treatment systems for selenium.
Citizen groups and their lawyers have been pursuing actions over selenium pollution as scientists and federal regulators express concerns that mining discharges are threatening aquatic life.
Selenium, a naturally occurring element found in many rocks and soils, is an antioxidant needed in very small amounts for good health. In slightly larger amounts, selenium can be toxic.
Selenium impacts the reproductive system of many aquatic species, can impair the development and survival of fish and can damage gills and other organs of aquatic organisms subject to prolonged exposure.