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Toxic coal sludge pollutes Ky. town 10 years later

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Coal sludge in KentuckyIn parts of eastern Kentucky, the pictures coming out of Hungary of the red sludge that roared from a factory's reservoir, downstream into the Danube River, are all too reminiscent of what happened a decade ago this week.

A layer of dark goo still sits under a creekbed on Glenn Cornette's land, the leftovers from when a coal company's sprawling slurry pond burst, blackening 100 miles of waterways and polluting the water supply of more than a dozen communities before the stuff reached the Ohio River.

A torrent as wide as a football field and 6 feet deep covered Cornette's property in Martin County, near the West Virginia line about 175 miles east of Louisville. It killed all manner of plants and cut off his access to the street.

"It just looked like pudding or something," Cornette said recently.

With seven dead so far and at least 120 injured, the 184-million-gallon spill of toxic muck from a Hungarian alumina plant has already proven more dangerous than what's known as the Inez (eye-NEHZ') disaster.

But the mess in Kentucky was considerably bigger - some 300 million gallons of slurry, a byproduct of purifying coal, oozed into yards and streams for miles in what was considered one of the South's worst environmental disasters at the time. And a decade later, its effects linger.


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