Coal-Waste Impoundment Database Offers Journalists a Tool

July 1, 2009

Possibly even more dangerous than coal-ash dams like the one that buried a Tennessee community in sludge Dec. 22, 2008, are the dams that impound the waste slurry from coal-mining operations.

While the Army Corps of Engineers continues to keep potential victims unaware of the hazards presented by these dams, another agency keeps an open online database that can give reporters a handle on them. Ultimately, reporters probing these often-huge coal-waste impoundments will have to get hazard information from state regulatory agencies.

The database is called the Coal Impoundments LIS (Location and Information System), and is online here. It's a cooperative effort of federal and state agencies, coal companies, and environmental groups. It lists coal-waste impoundments in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

The dams are supposed to be regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The database also links to emergency plans for each dam.