A number of dead fish turned up in the Clover Fork branch of the Cumberland River on Friday after Harlan/Cumberland Coal Company at Highsplint released Flock — a high molecular weight flocculant of polyacrylamide type agent used as a clarification and filtration agent of river water, waste water and industrial water — into the river, officials said.
Harlan County Emergency Management Director David McGill said he received a call Friday at approximately 8:30 p.m. from a resident in the Clover Fork area saying dead fish were floating in the river near Shields.
“I responded to the scene and did observe dead fish floating in the water,” said McGill. “Upon investigation I found the problem had come from one of the coal mines in the area. The proper authorities were then notified.”
McGill said the problem has since been corrected.
Linda Potter, a representative of the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, said inspectors were in Harlan on Saturday evaluating the incident.
“It came from the Harlan/Cumberland Coal Company,” said Potter. “Basically, what happened there is a prep plant in Highsplint and one of the slurry lines broke between the prep plant and the impoundment. So, they put this chemical in and it causes the sediments to settle at the bottom of the sediment ponds. They over-treated with the chemical and that is what caused the fish kill.”
Potter said after the slurry line broke “the black water went into the pond and they had to do something so they put too much chemical in.”
She said the mine was issued a citation for allowing the chemical to enter the stream.
“We were not notified until Saturday,” said Potter. “Our inspectors were in Harlan at about noon. They took water samples at several different places. They took a sample of the water running out of the pond and it was within SMCRA limits. By the time we got there the water was clear.”
Potter said samples were taken from Sea Graves Creek, Kelly’s Branch and the Clover Fork River and they did meet SMCRA requirements.
“The inspectors did see dead fish in Kelly’s Branch,” said Potter. “They went on down to Dartmont and they found dead fish there also.”
Numerous calls were received at Evarts City Hall. However, chief water plant operator Woodrow Fields said raw water taken in for treatment by the water plant does not come from the now abandoned river water source.
“When the plant was designed and built in the mid 1990s, a dam was built in the river, beside what is now a Marathon gas station. Pumps were put in place to pump water from the river to the Evarts water plant as a raw water source,” said Fields. “However, the plant design was so that it could not treat water as turbid as that of the Clover Fork River. The pumps were soon pulled and the Clover Fork River was never used as a raw water source at the Evarts water plant. We are permitted to withdraw raw water from four different wells and a mine source, which is located at the top of Evarts Hill. These are our only sources of raw water intake and should in no way be directly affected by the water in the Clover Fork River.”
Nola Sizemore may be reached at 606-909-4147 or on Twitter @Nola_hde