Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Coal Ash in Western Maryland

Four thousand gallons of toxic coal ash almost landed in the Potomac River. The ash came from a plant run by NewPage near Luke, Maryland.

Stoltzfus said the bulk of the sludge spilled onto the West Virginia river bank across from NewPage's mill in Luke, about 210 miles upstream from Washington. Workers were expected to finish cleaning the stream bank Tuesday, Stoltzfus said.

She said a minor amount of sludge caused discoloration in the river about 30 feet downstream, with no sign of harm to any fish. The spill also was not expected to taint any drinking water supplies.

Both Stoltzfus and Koontz said the dime-sized hole in the 8-inch diameter, carbon-steel pipe probably was created by the abrasive mixture of ash and water moving through it.

The ash comes from coal the company burns to power the mill. Three 800-foot pipelines carry the ash to a 1.2 million gallon storage lagoon across the river....

Koontz said the company reported a smaller leak of about 20 gallons from one of the ash pipelines in November.
The image below shows the plant in Maryland, the pipeline, and the lagoons across the Potomac River in West Virginia.

This was a narrow escape, and the incident underlines the need for better regulations and oversight of how coal waste is treated. Our water resources are too important to have them threatened by a leaky pipeline or a weakened impoundment dam.