2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM

Environmental Dangers of Coal Fires in Kentucky and Alabama

STRACHER, Glenn B.1, HOWER, James C.2, SCHROEDER, Paul3, FLEISHER, Chris3, KITSON, Jimmy4, BARWICK, Larry H.5, HIETT, John6, MARDON, Sarah M.7, CARROLL, Richard E.8 and EMSBO-MATTINGLY, Stephen D.9, (1)Department of Science and Mathematics, East Georgia College, University System of Georgia, 131 College Circle, Swainsboro, GA 30401, (2)Center for Applied Energy Research, University of Kentucky, 2540 Research Park Drive, Lexington, KY 40511, (3)Department of Geology, University of Georgia, 210 Field Street, Athens, GA 30602, (4)Walker County Soil and Water Conservation District Reclamation Department, 27892 Highway 69, Jasper, AL 35504, (5)Abandoned Mine Lands, State of Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, Suite 100, 11 West Oxmoor Road, Birmingham, AL 35209, (6)Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, Center for Applied Energy Research, 1025 Capital Center Drive, PO Box 2244, Frankfort, KY 40601, (7)Kentucky Division of Water, Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Cabinet, 14 Reilly Road, Frankfort, KY 40601, (8)Geological Survey of Alabama, P.O. Box 869999, Tuscaloosa, AL 35486, (9)NewFields Environmental Forensics Pratice, LLC, 300 Ledgewood Place, Suite 305, Rockland, MD 02370, stracher@ega.edu

Reconnaissance work at the Laura Campbell (LC) and Ruth Mullins (RM) coal-mine fires adjacent to the towns of Hazard and Bulan, Kentucky, respectively, and at the Mulga Gob Fire south of Birmingham, Alabama, revealed the presence of toxic vapors, greenhouse gases, and potential ozone forming gases emitted from gas vents caked with creosote and minerals formed from the exhaled gas.

In Kentucky, the Pennsylvanian Breathitt Formation, Hazard No. 7 coal seam was exposed in drift mouths, mine benches, and auger holes drilled during pre-reclamation-law underground and contour mining. Vapor from the LC fire reported in 2006, presumably started by spontaneous combustion, was visible and smelled at a nearby shopping center and environs, while burning threatened the stability of a public-water-supply tank. Ignited in 2006 by a forest fire, the RM fire is thought to currently be burning in abandoned-mining tunnels beneath Kentucky Route 80, a scenario for dangerous subsidence.

In Mulga, gob piles contain waste rock and coal from mining the Pennsylvanian Pottsville Formation underground. The gob has repeatedly ignited since the 1980s as a consequence of lightening strikes and people burning refuse on the piles. Cut-off trenches encircling the gob and burial beneath 0.5-1 m of compacted soil has extinguished some of the fires.

The Mulga Gob Fire can be smelled for several miles and has resulted in respiratory complaints, streams with a pH of 2-3, and an increase in the number of automobile accidents due to early-morning smoke combining with fog to reduce driving visibility.

Gas analyses revealed 47 compounds including the toxins toluene and xylene; greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide; and the potential ozone-forming gases ethene, ethane, propene, and propane, all emitted from gas vents (165-385oC) into the atmosphere. Surficial deposits include creosote, sulfur, and ammonia compounds, all potential soil and water pollutants.