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Five Months After the Sludge Spill March 12, 2001

The nation's worst-ever blackwater spill happened on October 11, 2000 near Inez, Kentucky. Just after midnight 250 million gallons of coal sludge, laced with coal cleaning chemicals and the heavy metals present in coal, leaked from a coal slurry impoundment at a Martin County Coal Company mountaintop removal site. The sludge leaked into an underground mine then burst out two portals into the Coldwater and Wolf Creeks.

Five months and one day later, OVEC volunteers and staff returned to the site.

Some newspaper articles had contended the place was 80 percent cleaned up. Perhaps reporters responsible for those stories hadn’t actually bothered to visit the site.


Here’s our first stop, on Wolf Creek at the site of Wolf Creek Collieries coal prep plant. Two of six pumps were working that day, pumping 6,200 gallons per minute out of the still black creek, up to a previously inactive 20-acre impoundment owned by Martin County Coal.


Further up Wolf Creek a bulldozer delicately strips a stream of all its vegetation, and gently turns over the sludge so you can’t see it anymore. Now that’s clean.


More of the "cleanup" on Wolf Creek.


Bulldozer tracks and no vegetation left on Wolf Creek.


The stream banks have been scraped clean of vegetation and cut nearly vertical -- a perfect set up for more erosion.


Thick sludge still lines the bank of Coldwater Creek.


Crews, without any protective gear, use high pressure hoses to wash down the banks of Coldwater Creek.


A pump sucks the muck out of Coldwater Creek.


Inez resident Monroe Cassady watches the sludge pour out the other end, into a holding pond on the Coldwater Creek floodplain.


The holding pond.


Last updated on Tuesday, May 29, 2001