BOB WHITE – A mining incident turned a part of a creek off Pond Fork Road white on Thursday.
Officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) were on the scene investigating the five miles of stream from just south of Van in the Bob White and Wharton areas.
The leak came from Eastern Associated Coal, a Patriot subsidiary, after a container tank burst at about 10 p.m. Wednesday night and more than 2,000 gallons of a white milky substance, called DT-50-D, spilled into the creek.
The substance is generally used as a suppressant to cover coal and rail cars to cut down on the dust they can spread. Its consistency has the appearance of milky latex.
The chemical is not toxic, but the WVDEP has advised people not to swim in the creek or drink water from it.
Boone County Emergency Services were contacted to respond to the spill.
The DEP has indicated the water could flow to Madison in Boone County before the chemicals dissipate.
“At this point, we know that a dust suppressant leaked from a tank into the creek, just south of Van,” said Kathy Cosco, a spokesperson with the WVDEP.
Cosco said the dust suppressant is used to spray down coal that is being loaded into railroad cars to keep down the coal dust.
The incident was first reported just after midnight by an employee at the plant.
Several residents noticed the river’s milk white appearance when they were taking their children to school.
“I noticed it early this morning,” said Maria Gunnoe, who lives along Route 85 near the plant. “It turned the river totally white.”
Caroll Eversole, who was working at Gordon’s Service and Auto in Bob White, said some customers had come in asking what happened to the river.
“They said it was white as snow or looked like milk,” she said. “Nobody really knew what was going on or how the water got that way.”
Gunnoe said many living in the area fear the human effects of these types of incidents.
“You have children that swim, fish and play in this water,” she said. “Who knows what types of short and long term affects this can have on people living in these communities.”
Cosco said she has been told the material is not toxic, but the public was being advised as a precaution not to swim, fish or go in the water until the investigation is completed.
“We are advising that if you get do get the affected water on you to wash off with soap and water,” she said.
Most of the area residential water is supplied by West Virginia American Water, which doesn’t use the river for its water supply to the area.
However, Cosco wasn’t sure of what the affects, if any, the contaminated water could have on any well water in the area.
“That is something we are still trying to determine,” she said.
Cosco said the WVDEP notified the Boone County Emergency Services of the incident.
“We wanted the local emergency services to be aware of what has been reported,” she said.
The incident has affected about five miles of the stream, but at this point there hasn’t been any fish found dead, Cosco added.
The five-mile white “slug” of water was moving slowly down stream and was concentrated in the Bob White area heading toward Van at around 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
Cosco said in many cases the “slug” dissipates on its own.
“The agency made a determination not to have a vacuum truck brought in because the material is disolving on its own and not depositing anything on the river bed or banks,” she explained. “We have found no dead fish and investigators reporting seeing very many fish alive and well.”
Cosco said the investigation would focus on the cause of the leak and how the material that was contained in a tank got in the creek.
“The company has two day to provide an incident report to the WVDEP,” she said.
Cosco added that there is also the potential for the WVDEP to issues fines against the company.