Toxic selenium in Kentucky streams

Unprecedented levels of toxic selenium are being dumped in Kentucky streams with the knowledge and consent of the Beshear administration.

Elevated levels of selenium are found in streams below coal mines in eastern Kentucky, with state officials taking action to shield coal companies from the liability that comes with exposing the public to dangerous levels of this pollutant.

In fact, in 2009 the Division of Water withheld held data that showed how problematic selenium pollution is becoming. It denied Open Record Requests so that it could issue the General Permit for Coal Mining without requiring a water quality limit for selenium.

That data, collected in a 2007 survey of 13 sites in eastern Kentucky, showed that water downstream exceeded state water quality standards at one mining site and one road cut. Streams below other mining sites showed elevated levels. Below three mining sites, fish tissue levels exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommendations. In five other areas, the levels in fish were high enough to be harmful.

Elevated selenium levels are now showing up in other water monitoring tests in eastern Kentucky streams. High selenium levels are also found where there is coal ash pollution.