News and Tribune


April 9, 2011

Miners voice concerns with proposed Southern Indiana coal mine

INDIANAPOLIS — Plans for a new coal mine in southern Indiana have reignited a feud between an aluminum manufacturer and mine workers, who are concerned about safety because of its proximity to the former Squaw Creek Mine, where millions of gallons of hazardous industrial waste were dumped in the 1960s and 1970s.

Former miners and community members appeared Thursday at a water quality certification hearing in Boonville, Ind., a town about 15 miles east of Evansville, to voice their concerns that the proposed Liberty Mine LLC will expose mine workers to toxic materials and harm the environment in and around the 1,384-acre site.

The debate is the latest development in a long-running clash between Alcoa Inc. and the Squaw Creek mine workers that began in 2004 over issuing a new permit to reopen the mine, which closed in 1998.

Alcoa, a Pittsburgh-based aluminum producer that will own the new mine, used Squaw Creek to dispose of millions of gallons of wastes from their aluminum smelting facility along the Ohio River near Evansville between 1965 and 1979. Waste dumped at the site included chromium hydroxide sludge, chromic acid and coal tar pitch. The mine was a joint venture between Alcoa and Peabody Coal Co.

Alcoa spokesman Jim Beck said the company has complied with Indiana Department of Environmental Management regulations and dumped the waste in designated areas that don't conflict with the Liberty Mine.

"Those (designated) waste sites have been identified, institutional controls have been placed on those areas to ensure they are not disturbed and the area to be mined will not overlap those areas," Beck said.

Bil Musgrave, a retired United Mine Workers of America member who sued over health hazards, said former mine workers saw waste being dumped in restricted areas, including the planned site of the Liberty Mine.

"The miners know that the material dumped was dumped in other areas. They witnessed it," said Musgrave, who recovered nine years ago from bile duct cancer, which he believes developed from exposure to toxic waste at the mine.

But IDEM wetlands project manager David Carr said his agency's independent investigations from 2008 have shown that there is no waste in the proposed site, which will be operated by Vigo Coal Co.

"So where they are going to extract the coal is well below where the waste are deposited right now — probably about 100 feet below where the waste are deposited now," Carr said. "So from a geologic perspective, we don't see a big concern there."

However, Musgrave said drilling that deep — about 190 feet into the mine — is a problem.

"When they dig 190 feet, that water is going to migrate to the lowest point," Musgrave said.

Beck said there shouldn't be any correlation between Squaw Creek and the potential impacts from Liberty Mine, which will employ about 55 workers. The fact that the two mines are in the vicinity of each, Beck said, does not mean auguring the Liberty Mine coal seams will put miners at risk.

A 2004 University of Cincinnati's Center for Occupational Health study screened 219 former Squaw Creek mine workers and their family members and found no link between the industrial waste buried on the site and cancer cases suffered by miners exposed to the toxins. Alcoa called for the study after miners expressed health concerns regarding the toxins.

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