Hungarian sludge spill stirs up memories of Martin County, KY

Written by Amanda Starbuck

Topics: Coal

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250-million gallons of coal slurry floods Coldwater Fork, Martin County, KY (AP Photo/Lexington Herald-Leader, David Stephenson)

The recent images of destruction from  Hungary, where a flood of toxic mud from an aluminum waste pond has killed at least eight people, injured hundreds more and forced hundreds from their homes, are stirring up strong memories in Eastern Kentucky.

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the Martin County Sludge Spill. The Associated Press ran a story this week that makes the connections between these two disasters clear.

Slurry burst through the bottom of the Martin County Coal Corp.’s 68-acre holding pond on the morning of Oct. 11, 2000, sending the toxic goo crashing through an underground mine and into two creeks.

“The sludge looked like a flow of black lava,” said Mickey McCoy, an Inez resident whose creek was blackened by the spill. “We’re not talking brown water, we’re talking black, black lava just rolling.”

The coal company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, eventually paid $46 million for the cleanup, along with about $3.5 million in state fines and an undisclosed sum to residents.

Since the 2000 disaster, there have been 22 coal impoundment spills at Massey-owned sites, according to the Coal Impoundment Location and Information System, a database kept by Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. There are 285 active slurry ponds in 11 states, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. More than half are in Kentucky and West Virginia, and with another 71 in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

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