Groups Take Action to Hold Coal Mines Accountable for Toxic Selenium Pollution
January 7, 2011
On January 5, 2011, Sierra Club and its coalfield allies took legal action to hold a coal company accountable for dumping harmful mining pollution into West Virginia waterways. The groups filed a lawsuit against Maple Coal Company, a subsidiary of Western Coal, for releasing unlawfully high levels of toxic selenium into Paint Creek and Armstrong Creek from two of its surface mines on the border of Fayette and Kanawha Counties. Selenium is a toxic pollutant that causes deformities and reproductive problems in fish and amphibians. At very high levels, selenium can pose a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.
Toxic selenium pollution from mines is a widespread problem in West Virginia. This latest action follows several recent lawsuits filed by the groups against other mine operators, including Massey Energy, Arch Coal, and Patriot Coal, that seek to hold those companies accountable for their selenium discharge violations. In August of last year, a federal judge in West Virginia ordered Patriot to install technology at two of its mines to treat selenium pollution at an estimated cost of $45 million.
Although the Clean Water Act permits held by Maple and other coal mine operators include limits on the amount of selenium the mines can discharge, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has consistently given the operators extensions on the amount of time they have to bring their discharges below those limits. As a result, Maple continues to discharge selenium at levels above the limits considered safe by DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The most recent extensions expired April 5, 2010. Rather than lower its pollution, Maple has tried a variety of legal tactics to avoid compliance, and has continued dumping dangerous amounts of toxic pollution into West Virginia waterways.
Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy are represented by the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.
To read more about Sierra Club’s work to stop toxic selenium pollution from surface coal mining in Appalachia, click here!
Details and Documents:
Groups Take Action to Hold More Coal Mines Accountable for Toxic Selenium Pollution
January 5, 2011, Sierra Club Press Release
Environmental groups sue W.Va. mine operator
January 6, 2011, The Associated Press
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.