Leeco Put on Notice for Selenium Pollution | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Leeco Put on Notice for Selenium Pollution

Groups Put Kentucky Coal Company on Notice
for Polluting Local Waterways with Toxic Selenium

The Sierra Club and KFTC took action this week to hold yet another Kentucky coal company accountable for its pollution of local waterways.

In a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue sent this week to Leeco (part of James River Coal Corp.), we assert that the mining company is illegally releasing toxic selenium into several waterways in Letcher County – including Bull Creek, Montgomery Creek, Defeated Creek, Upper Lick Branch, and associated tributaries – without a permit, a violation of the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.  The company's own water monitoring reports, filed with the Kentucky Division of Water, show that its mines are discharging harmful quantities of the pollutant.

"If waterborne selenium concentrations are not reduced, reproductive toxicity will spiral out of control and fish populations will collapse. The warning signs are evident. If a catastrophic event is to be avoided, now is the time to take action."

A. Dennis Lemly, Ph.D.
Research Biologist
Wake Forest University

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia. At very high levels, selenium poses a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems.

"Selenium threatens our fish and other aquatic organisms because it readily bio-accumulates," stated Tim Guilfoile, deputy director of Sierra Club's Water Sentinels Program. "It's a growing problem for this region."

"Waterways across Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia are damaged by toxic mining waste that threatens our streams and our way of life," said Rick Clewett, a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Cumberland (Kentucky) Chapter.

This notice-of-intent-to-sue letter follows a similar notice sent to ICG Hazard in early December for selenium pollution from its mine in Leslie County. Selenium pollution is quickly emerging as a major issue of concern for streams and communities below coal surface mines. Citizen groups have filed several recent enforcement actions against mine operators in West Virginia regarding selenium pollution. In September, a federal judge in West Virginia ordered Patriot Coal Corporation to post $45 million in secured credit to cover the anticipated cost of treating selenium at two of its surface coal mines.

The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and the Appalachian Citizens Law Center are representing the groups in this case. 

For more information on selenium get this factsheet.

A copy of the Notice of Intent letter is here.

Issue Area(s): 

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