LOUISVILLE, Ky. - An environmental group is suing a coal company, accusing it of violating federal water regulations by dumping toxic amounts of the element selenium in waterways near a mine in southeastern Kentucky.
The Sierra Club filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in London accusing ICG Hazard of violating the federal Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 at the Thunder Ridge surface mine in Leslie County. The group is seeking an order requiring ICG Hazard to install selenium treatment facilities at the mine and pay $37,500 in fines for each day the law was violated.
"While mountain top removal may make a quick buck for ICG, it results in permanent damage to Kentucky's waterways," said Lane Boldman, of the Sierra Club's Cumberland Chapter in Lexington. "The long term risk to the environment, to wildlife and to human health is unacceptable and violates the laws intended to protect our communities and our environment."
Ross Mazza, a spokesman for ICG Hazard's parent company, International Coal Group in Scott Depot, W.Va., said the company is reviewing the suit.
"However, we believe we are in compliance with a validly issued Kentucky water discharge permit and we will vigorously defend these allegations," Mazza said.
ICG Hazard's permit for the Thunder Ridge mine allows it to discharge some pollutants to Lower Bad Creek and several tributaries, including Greasy Creek and Roundhole Branch of Greasy Creek.
The lawsuit says ICG Hazard, which the company said produced 3.7 million tons of coal in 2009, has discharged selenium into the water at levels that could harm aquatic life and exceeded Kentucky's standard for what is allowable.
Coal mining that disturbs the layers of the earth containing high levels of selenium can cause runoff into nearby waterways or leaching into ground water, the Sierra Club said. Selenium is also concentrated in ash when coal is burned.
Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is harmless in small amounts but can be toxic in high concentrations. In humans, high levels of selenium may cause hair and fingernail loss, with long term exposure damaging the kidneys, liver, nervous and circulatory systems. In aquatic life, selenium can cause reproductive failure, birth defects and damage to gills and internal organs.
The Sierra Club, along with two other environmental groups, sued ICG Eastern in West Virginia in March over a surface mine they say has been discharging toxic selenium into streams for years.
St. Louis-based Patriot Coal in 2009 agreed to test a new method of removing selenium from mine runoff under a settlement with a pair of environmental groups over selenium runoff. Patriot operates mines in West Virginia and Kentucky.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
North Cincinnati's Top Stories
View photos of three stars from the 1970s sitcom "The Brady Bunch," as they return to Kings Island amusement park to mark the 40th anniversary of one of their most popular episodes.