Aerial view of sludge dam at Elk Run, West Virginia
Event: Helicopter tour of Mountaintop Removal and Reclamation on Big Coal River watershed.
Through mountaintop removal and reclamation, the coal industry is introducing several new landforms to the coal fields. One of the introduced landforms is the "wet refuse impoundment," a structure designed to store the waste from coal preparation plants. At the Elk Run Preparation Plant in Sylvester, an A.T. Massey subsidiary, coal from surrounding mines is cleaned through a process called "flocculation," which separates ash from coal, making the coal lighter to ship and cleaner to burn. Federal clean air and water legislation prohibits the release of waste water from the cleaning process into streams. Coal companies therefore must store the waste water somewhere for treatment (known as "dewatering.") The solution is to store the "fine refuse" in large hollows behind impoundments made of the coarse refuse. These structures, which are hundreds of feet deep, are known locally as "sludge ponds." Sludge ponds in the project study area are located at Shumate's Branch, Marfork, and Elk Run. Elk Run is noted as a pivotal site in union history. It was at Elk Run that the A.T. Massey Coal Company established the first non-union mine in (check date), as part of a campaign to establish what E. Morgan Massey termed a "union-free climate for running coal." As we approached Elk Run, Benny Campbell commented, "This is A.T. Massey country here."