Mine Water Geyser in Elizabeth No Danger, DEP Says

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
22 March 2011
By Michael Hasch

Water from an abandoned mine that spewed yesterday into a creek in Elizabeth Township should not pose any danger to drinking water supplies or plant and aquatic life in the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman said.

Drainage water continually flows from the old Warden Mine into Douglas Run, a tributary to the Yough, but not at the high volume prompted when a crew cleared a clogged 24-inch pipe, unleashing an underground lake that had built up in the tunnels that honeycomb the hillside, DEP workers said.

The geyser, spewing from a manhole and rising several feet into the air, flooded one basement and forced authorities to close Douglas Run Road near Sutersville for much of the day.

"All the downstream water supplies are set up to treat abandoned mine water," DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said. "We have notified them to be prepared."

"Although the recent rains increased the volume of water in the mine and the turbidity of the water, it also helps in diluting it in the river," Gresh said. "Also, it's an alkaline discharge, rather than acidic, which is likely to mitigate any harm to aquatic or plant life."

Ned Mulcahy of Three Rivers Waterkeeper, part of a worldwide alliance of environmentalists dedicated to clean water, said he feared the volume of the discharge could create "a health hazard to people and to aquatic life."

Richard Balogh, a manager for the federal Office of Surface Mining, said the mine, which closed in the mid-1930s, "used to be the largest underground (bituminous coal) mine in the United States."

After there was a "blowout" of built-up mine water in the area in the 1980s, the drainage pipe was replaced and has been cleared every year or two, said Dave Hochstein of the DEP's Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation.

Hochstein and his crew were in the process of clearing the pipe when they broke through the clog, unleashing the torrent of water.

"What can you say?" said Bill Hinerman, who returned home to find water knee deep in his basement. He said he was heartened to hear Hochstein say DEP would pay the costs of cleanup and repairs.

Michael Hasch can be reached at mhasch@tribweb.com or 412-320-7820.