Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ore Knob Mine Dam: Ashe County Disaster In The Making

Let's face it. When news happens in Appalachia, the mainstream corporate media rarely covers it. Especially when that news has something to do with something that may interfere with the latest efforts by big coal to greenwash the environmental impacts of coal mining. Don't want to miss out on all that advertising revenue, now do we?

See, over in Tennessee there was this huge environmental disaster that happened the other day. And its impact may be even bigger than that little thing called the Exxon Valdez spill.
As for coverage from the mainstream corporate media? MIA, baby.

From Free Speech Radio News:
About 40 miles west of Knoxville, Tennessee, millions of gallons of ashy sludge have broken through a dike at a coal-fired power plant, flooding homes, burying roads, and threatening rivers and drinking water.
The holding pond contained about 70 acres of fly ash – that's the residue left over from burning coal. It often has elevated levels of toxic metals. And according to the EPA, the spill has released about 525 million gallons of the sludge – that's nearly 50 times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Full audio here.

And yet there is a local angle here. Linda Burchette, a reporter for the Jefferson Post, authored two stories in November 2008 about the Ore Knob Mine dam in Ashe County. Seems that the Ore Knob Mine dam might just be in danger of, well, failing:

Potential failure of the dam at Ore Knob Mine in Laurel Springs has brought action from representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency.


An eminent risk of dam failure was determined due to a potentially collapsed or blocked drainage pipe within the dam.


The meeting at Peak Creek Community Center last Thursday attracted about a dozen local residents to hear an update from Terrence Byrd, on-scene coordinator, and Sherryl Carbonaro, community involvement coordinator. Also present was Brian Malone, contractor.

Byrd told those present that the EPA officials on site are an emergency response team there to deal with potential failure of the dam, which is 70 feet high and 700 feet wide. He also brought results for those who had not yet received them of water samples from their drinking water supplies. He noted that there had not been any finding of primary contaminants in the wells tested that would make water unsafe to drink.

The tailings, however, have been found to have high concentrations of numerous metals, including copper, zinc, iron, arsenic and mercury. This area is about 20 acres. The dam protecting water below the tailings area from contamination is eroding, and tailings have “slumped” over partially blocking the 24-inch pipe that directs water from Ore Knob Branch underneath the tailings into a sediment pond. That pond is full and cannot contain sediment from continuing down Ore Knob Branch. Seepage from the dam has high concentrations of aluminum, copper, iron, manganese, silver, zinc and sulfate.


What the EPA found recently is that severe erosion of the dam could expose mine tailings that could create hazardous substances in the surface water and sediment throughout Ore Knob Branch (1.5 miles) and Little Peak Creek (2.25 miles). The agency notes that the entire length of Ore Knob Branch, as well as a three mile section of Peak Creek to the South Fork of the New River is sterile, and the ecological impacts can be seen to within eight miles of the border with Virginia.

First of all, kudos to Ms. Burchette for covering the news and writing two solid stories about this potential disaster in the making.

Readers of these stories had to do a little bit of digging (no pun intended) to find the lede, which we would argue was contained in the sentence "An eminent [did she mean "imminent"??] risk of dam failure was determined due to a potentially collapsed or blocked drainage pipe within the dam."

Right in our own backyard, folks. Concerned? Let's have a look at that Tennessee disaster again, shall we?


Anonymous said...

scary stuff...wonder what epa is going to do--if anything. how can we expect them to do anything when conservatives keep cutting their staffing levels and their budgets?

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