North River has elevated toxins
Levels not deemed a danger to drinking water
Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 at 11:10 p.m.
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Water samples taken in North River where coal slurry spilled last week show elevated levels of lead and arsenic, but officials say the amounts are well below levels that would pose a danger to the area’s drinking water.
The slurry-Tests showed amounts that exceeded levels considered toxic to aquatic life if exposed over long periods of time.
-The levels of pollutants caused by the spill are far below amounts that would be considered dangerous to the water supply.
Tests conducted for the Alabama Surface Mining Commission showed that amounts did exceed levels considered toxic to aquatic life if exposed over long periods of time.
The slurry, a waste byproduct from coal mining, overflowed from an abandoned area of an underground coal mine in southern Fayette County where Jim Walter Resources was legally pumping the watery sediment. Pumping equipment malfunctioned, causing the slurry to spill into an unnamed creek and eventually Freeman Creek, a tributary of North River. North River flows into Lake Tuscaloosa, which provides drinking water for the city of Tuscaloosa.
Jimmy Junkin, director of the Waterworks and Sewer Department for the city of Tuscaloosa, said that the levels of pollutants caused by the spill are far below amounts that would be considered dangerous to the water supply.
Although the higher levels of lead and arsenic may not pose a threat to drinking water, they do cause concern for Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke.
“Elevated levels of lead and arsenic is nothing to sweep under the rug,” he said. “These are very serious pollutants. What it is ultimately going to mean for Lake Tuscaloosa and the drinking water supply I have no idea, but what it certainly means is that added pollutants are being put into the lake and that’s not a good thing.”
Randy Johnson, director of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission, said that clean-up of the affected area is under way and that no more slurry has entered the water. Heavy rainfall last week washed a lot of the sediment downstream, he said. The material dilutes as it travels downstream. He expects that additional test results that should be returned today will show decreased levels of the pollutants and sediment.
Scott Sanderford, Lakes Division manager for the city of Tuscaloosa, said that city officials are more concerned about sediment in the water than the effect on the drinking supply.
“We are cautiously monitoring the situation. We’re not concerned that it will affect the drinking water because of sheer capacity of Lake Tuscaloosa and our treatment process there is no harm to the public’s drinking water supply,” he said.
Sanderford said that the amount of naturally occurring lead and arsenic in the area sometimes exceeds the level that Jim Walter is permitted to discharge. Officials are monitoring the sediment created by the spill. Long-term sedimentation caused by development and erosion around the lakes is an ongoing concern for the city.
Alabama Department of Environmental Management spokesman Scott Hughes said that the agency is conducting an investigation and working with the Surface Mining Commission to monitor and provide oversight for the company’s clean-up.
Brooke said that he collected a water sample near Old Jasper Road and Woodson Bridge that the Black Warrior Riverkeeper organization is having tested.
“This has been downplayed,” he said. “What happened here was a coal slurry spill. We expected to find heavy metals and other pollutants. We haven’t gotten our sampling back yet, but we expect that our results will show similar pollutants.”
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