Martin County sludge spill


Martin County sludge spill
Map showing location of Martin County in Kentucky
Wolf Creek, October 22, 2000

The Martin County Sludge Spill was an accident that occurred after midnight on October 11, 2000 when the bottom of a coal sludge impoundment owned by Massey Energy in Martin County, Kentucky, USA, broke into an abandoned underground mine below. The slurry came out of the mine openings, sending an estimated 306,000,000 US gallons (1.16×109 l; 255,000,000 imp gal) of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. By morning, Wolf Creek was oozing with the black waste; on Coldwater Fork, a 10-foot (3.0 m) wide stream became a 100-yard (91 m) expanse of thick sludge.

The spill was over five feet deep in places and covered nearby residents' yards. The spill polluted hundreds of miles (300 – 500 km) of the Big Sandy River and its tributaries and the Ohio River. The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed. The spill was 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill (12 million US gallons (45,000 m3)) and one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.[citation needed] The spill was exceeded in volume by the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill in 2008.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), oversaw the Mine Safety and Health Administration at the time. Chao placed a McConnell staffer in charge of the MSHA investigation into the spill. In 2002, a $5,600 fine was levied. That September, Massey gave $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, chaired by McConnell.

In 2005 Appalshop filmmaker Robert Salyer released a documentary entitled Sludge, chronicling the continuing story of the Martin County disaster, the resulting federal investigation, and the looming threat of coal sludge ponds throughout the coalfield region. In the wake of the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill, Appalshop has provided a web stream of Sludge for the public [1].

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