Coal Refuse and slurry

What is Coal Refuse?

After coal is mined, the raw coal must be processed and cleaned to prepare it for combustion. The first basic step is to put the raw coal through a series of shakers that separate rock material from the coal and results in a solid waste, generally called “coarse coal refuse.” The second step involves using chemicals that remove any other material from the coal and results in a liquid waste, generally called “coal slurry.” This process also involves crushing and washing the coal with water, creating waste water filled with toxic materials. Each year coal preparation creates millions of gallons of wastewater containing an estimated 13 tons of mercury, 3236 tons of arsenic, 189 tons of beryllium, 251 tons of cadmium, and 2754 tons of nickel, and 1098 tons of selenium. Coal refuse is any waste that results from the processing and cleaning of the coal, including slurry, culm, slate, clay or other materials associated with or from a coal seam. Toxic substances in the waste--including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium--can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital human organs and the nervous system.

There are several ways to manage coal refuse, but most often it is put into massive piles,called “gob piles,” resembling hills or mountains. Another common method of managing coal refuse is to fill in valleys by building earthen dams to hold back the coal slurry and contain it in valleys and dumping the coarse coal refuse into valleys, filling them all the way to the top, creating new topographic features.

In order to establish these Coal Refuse Disposal Areas (CRDAs), homeowners currently living in the areas that a company wants to fill must be paid off and effectively forced out so the company owns all of the land and can apply for a permit.

Another form of liquid coal waste is acidic mine runoff.

Why is this important?

  • The disposal of coal refuse can contaminate local waterways, soils, and air from their toxic components. Heavy metals that exist in refuse can pollute waterways by leaching into groundwater or flowing directly into surface water sources.

  • Piles of gob left behind after mining extractions contain enough combustible material to be fire hazards.

  • There is a long history of violations at coal refuse disposal sites throughout the United States, particularly in areas with mining facilities, related to improper protection of groundwater and surface water sources against contamination from waste.

  • Coal refuse (aka waste coal) can be burned to generate power. This does not eliminate any harmful pollutants from the process, but rather, results in higher emissions of contaminants, especially mercury.

CRDAs in Washington and Greene Counties:

  • Washington County has 3 CRDA sites:

    • 1 Completely Reclaimed CRDA

    • 1 Stage I/Regraded CRDA

    • 1 Bond Forfeited-Chemical Treatment CRDA

  • Greene County has 24 CRDA sites:

    • 12 Active CRDAs

    • 7 Completely Reclaimed CRDAs

    • 3 Proposed CRDAs

    • 1 Stage 1/Regraded CRDA

    • 2 proposed CRDAs

Take Action

Are you directly impacted by a coal refuse disposal area (“CRDA”)? Is there proposed CRDA infrastructure in your community? Contact us at 724-229-3550 or email us at info@coalfieldjustice to see how we can support you.