Potomac Coal Ash Spill Could Reach Washington DC

Potomac Coal Ash Spill Could Reach Washington DC

UPDATE: While the coal ash was spilled, Maryland officials are now saying that much of the spill thankfully missed the river:

"Any spill of coal ash is very serious, but it does seem like it will be of relatively limited impact, that it was a minor leak," said Dawn Stoltzfus, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

She said papermaker NewPage Corp., which owns the leaky pipeline over the river's North Branch, must tell state regulators within five days how it plans to prevent future spills. The agency is considering fining the company, Stoltzfus said.


Looks like it's happened again -- a large quantity of wet coal ash has spilled into the North Branch Potomac River in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. The Natural Resource Defense Council points out that spilling coal ash into a river upstream from Washington, DC, is a hell of a way to get the attention of lawmakers:

I don't know how long it'll take for the spill to reach DC proper, but its a hell of a way to send a message about how much we need to regulate the handling of this stuff. All the more reason to thank the Obama Administration for announcing plans to propose federal regulations for coal waste.

From the MDE's release on the North Branch Potomac coal spill:

Officials estimated a "dime sized" hole developed in the pipeline around 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 8, 2009, and was discovered at 6:00 a.m. on March 9, 2009. The damaged pipeline was immediately taken out of service for repairs while cleanup efforts to remove spilled ash from the West Virginia shoreline are ongoing. Two unaffected parallel pipelines continue to carry ash slurry while repairs and cleanup operations are underway. MDE maintains regulatory authority over the North Branch Potomac River to the ordinary high water line along the West Virginia shoreline. In addition, MDE regulates the discharge of the coal ash lagoon in West Virginia through a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Permit since it normally discharges directly into the river after treatment.

The AP has now also filed a report on the Potomac coal spill:

Workers on Tuesday were cleaning up the spill on the West Virginia bank of the river's North Branch. The spill began about 8 p.m. Sunday and continued until 6 a.m. Monday, said Dawn Stoltzfus, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

She said the dime-sized hole was discovered by employees of NewPage Corp., which burns coal to produce electricity for its paper mill in Luke, about 150 miles west of Baltimore. The company stores the coal ash, also called fly ash, in a lagoon fed by three parallel pipelines that cross the river.

The spill was small compared with December's billion-gallon spill of coal ash sludge in Kingston, Tenn. Still, Maryland state regulators were concerned about a potential environmental threat from the sludge, which could contain high concentrations of selenium, sulfate, arsenic, iron or manganese.

"Obviously, fly ash is not something that one wants in the water," said Harley Speir, a fisheries biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

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