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Environmental Group Moves to Stop Toxic Coal Company Pollution

June 6, 2011

LONDON, Ky. - An environmental group is taking on a coal company for what it says is illegal water pollution at a large surface mine in Leslie County. The Sierra Club, in the first such suit it has filed, accuses the coal company ICG Hazard of violating environmental rules by dumping toxic amounts of the heavy metal selenium into waterways near the Thunder Ridge mine in southeastern Kentucky.

Lane Boldman, speaking for the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club, says the coal company is poisoning streams and creeks with the hazardous element, while state officials look the other way.

"We want it acknowledged that the mining companies have not been able to keep this problem under control and that it does, in fact, exist and it needs to be cleaned up."

Boldman says there's scientific evidence from the federal government that illegal selenium water contamination is a common problem downstream of mountaintop removal mines. However, she says, most coal companies mitigate that type of water pollution.

"But in the case of this particular mine, we had readings that were above acceptable levels on several areas. So, it's not being mitigated properly, and it has an effect to human health. It can be toxic."

Boldman says toxic levels of selenium acquired by eating contaminated fish or by water consumption can cause long-term damage to the liver, kidneys, nervous and circulatory systems.

"The problem with selenium is that it's not easily detectable; you can't see it in the water. You wouldn't taste it."

The legal challenge was filed in late May in U.S. District Court in London. According to reports, a coal company spokesman believes the company is in compliance with pollution permits and will defend against the allegations.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY