Thanks to BP and others of their ilk, we all know the devastation an oil spill can have on aquatic wildlife. Perhaps less well known is the widespread death that can be caused by coal slurry spills. Coal slurry is a fluid byproduct created when coal is washed with water and chemicals as part of the preparation process.

Last week, one county in Ohio witnessed first hand what a coal slurry spill can do. According to The Intelligencer, “more than 4,300 aquatic animals died as a result of the American Energy Corp. coal slurry spill in southern Belmont County last week.” Among the animals killed were endangered hellbender salamanders as well as fish and frogs.

The scene was nightmarish. “The water’s all black, and the rocks are covered with a gooey black substance,” said Greg Lipps, a herpetologist and contractor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “Dead fish. Dead crayfish. Pretty devastating.”

This type of incident is not rare. American Energy Corp. is a subsidiary of Murray Energy, and Murray Energy has been blamed for six large slurry spills in the last decade. According to the Columbus Dispatch, in 2000, the company paid a $100,000 fine for a spill, and in 2005, they paid a $50,000 fine after slurry polluted 2,300 feet of creek and killed thousands of fish. In 2008, a plume from a spill reached as far as the Ohio River. Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council, described the situation as being like a “drunk driver that keeps hitting kids in the crosswalk, yet the state keeps giving him his license back.”

There have been other coal slurry spills across the nation that have also proved lethal to wildlife. For example, in 2008, the Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee spilled over 1 billion gallons of coal slurry into local waterways, killing countless fish. October 11th marks the 10th anniversary of a disastrous slurry spill in Martin County, Kentucky, which saw 300 million gallons of slurry blacken 100 miles of waterways. Needless to say, aquatic wildlife didn’t fare too well.

Coal slurry spills are a serious threat to humans and wildlife. They also happen with more frequency than people may realize. That’s something to think about next time you hear the phrase “clean coal” thrown around by pro-coal lobbyists.

Tell the Environmental Protection Agency to stop allowing Big Coal to poison our rivers.

Photo Credit: Brian Gratwicke