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Eastern Kentucky county's drinking water in danger?

By maryelser     Apr 14, 2007 in Environment
Could an Eastern Kentucky county's drinking water be in danger of pollution from wastewater from a Virginia underground mine?
One of the nation's largest energy producers, Consolidated Coal Co., a subsidary of Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy Inc., has decided that in order to continue its mining operations in Buchanan County, Va, it will need to dispose of the water in the mine.
The plan is to pump mine wastewater that contains high amounts of chloride from an underground mine into a southwest Virginia river. The water is already being transfered into an abandoned mine but those shafts are filling up. Upon approval, water will be pumped through a 19-mile pipeline to the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.
But here is where Eastern Kentuckians begin worrying. The Levisa flows into Fishtrap Lake, which supplies drinking water for most of Pike County, Kentucky.There will be 14.4 million gallans of wastewater pumped into the stream each discharge day and only in the months when the river is flowing steadily. But there is worry about unforeseen adverse effects beyond dead fish and aquatic life from dumping such large amounts of water with high content of chloride into a freash water river.
"There's no question that fish and other aquatic life are going to die, especially at the point where the mine water enters the Levisa,' said Don Orth, a Virginia Tech professer of fisheries and wildlife science. "But no one know how toxic or how far that toxic zone will continue in the river," Orth said.
"If it is more toxic than they anticipate, then what are they going to do? The Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has already approved the permit."
It has been suggested that the mine look at other alternatives, including a process called osmosis- which would eliminate the chloride. before dumping it in the river.
Consol officials have estimated that the mine would be in operation about 17 more years and make $7 billion in that time. It would cost $105 million to treat the water through osmosis. But Consol officials have said that the process is too expensive and unreasonable.
Kentucky officials have been against the plan but their hands are tied until the discharge reaches the state. Kentucky officials remain concerned.
More about Pike county, Underground mine, Wastewater