Lawsuit alleges water violations

December 31, 2012

WAYNESBURG – Alpha Natural Resources, the company that owns and operates the Emerald Mine in Greene County, is being sued in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The suit filed by the Center for Coalfield Justice alleges the company has violated its permit under the Clean Water Act 400 times in the last five years.

The lawsuit comes after CCJ served a 60-day legal notice of its intent to Alpha Natural Resources, Emerald Mine, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“We extended an offer to Emerald to discuss ways to amicably resolve this matter during the 60 day (notice) period, but they chose not to respond,” said Patrick Grenter, Executive Director for Coalfield Justice. “We cannot and will not sit idly by while our rivers are continuously polluted. We have waited long enough for Emerald to stop illegally polluting our rivers and streams and now these ongoing violations must come to a stop.”

In its complaint, the CJS alleged Emerald exceeded the limitations for pollutants associated with coal processing, including osmotic pressure, iron, manganese, aluminum, and total suspended solids, that are set by the company’s permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

The complaint states that the discharges from Emerald Mine, which exceeded the limits set forth by its NPDES permit, ran into various streams and tributaries of the Monongahela River, including the south fork of Tenmile Creek, Grimes Run, Frosty Run, Dyers Fork, Coal Lick Run and Smith Creek. Attached to the complaint are multiple pages of violations, allegedly reported by the company for the period in question.

The CCJ made note of a specific waterway, the south fork of Tenmile Creek, as being designated as a high quality warm water fishery, which must be able to both maintain and allow for the propagation of indigenous fish species, flora and fauna.

“According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s 2012 draft water quality monitoring report, the south fork is impaired and not attaining its aquatic life use,” the complaint alleged. “As an already impaired water body, it is essential that no further strain from industrial and other pollutants be placed on the south fork.”

The complaint continues to break down the effects of iron, aluminum, total suspended solids and other contaminants to aquatic life. It further detailed some of the adverse reactions humans who ingest fish or water containing these contaminants might experience, such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea and headaches.

According to the complaint, from January to September the permit parameters were exceeded 53 times for osmotic pressure, 18 for iron, 23 for manganese, 12 for aluminum and 15 for total suspended solids.

“The illegal discharges listed in this notice include high levels of heavy metals, which have a detrimental effect on human health and the environment, including our native fish and birds,” said Joanne Kilgour, legal director of CCJ. “Emerald must show that they are capable of responsibly following the terms of their permits.”

John Poister, spokesman for the Pennsylvania DEP, said the DEP did not have time to review the complaint yet and it is not the custom of the DEP to comment on ongoing litigation.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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