MSHA Assesses Maximum Fines for Martin County Sludge Spill

MSHA assesses Martin County Coal Co. $110,000 in civil penalties, the legal maximum, for an incident that resulted in the release of 300 million gallons of coal sludge.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) assessed Martin County Coal Co. $110,000 in civil penalties, the legal maximum, for violations of federal mine safety laws. The fines stem from an incident that resulted in the release of 300 million gallons of coal sludge from a southeastern Kentucky impoundment in October 2000.

"The magnitude of the Martin County Spill clearly justifies issuing the maximum fines in this case," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "We are also in the midst of evaluating MSHA's procedures to reduce the risk of these disasters in the future."

MSHA issued its investigative report on the accident last October. The report found that the company failed, in constructing the impoundment, to spread a layer of fine coal slurry around the perimeter, a requirement for this site that would have created a barrier against water seepage. Impounded water, seeping through underlying layers of slurry and rock, gradually formed a conduit for increasing flow that resulted in sudden failure of the impoundment.

"Proper maintenance of impoundment structures is of utmost importance to miner safety," said Dave D. Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "These structures require constant attention of mine operators in order to prevent such serious accidents."

MSHA cited Martin County Coal for two unwarrantable failure violations of federal mine safety standards that contributed to the spill. One contributory violation was the failure to spread the fine slurry layer as the approved plan for constructing the impoundment specified. The second contributory violation was the failure to respond to signs showing that water flow from the impoundment into the mine had increased.

Both of the contributing violations were each assessed the maximum $55,000 civil penalty.

Martin County Coal Co. is contesting the citations issued by MSHA and can contest the civil penalties.

edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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