Coal is usually 'washed' with water and a variety of chemicals to reduce its content of sulfur and mineral matter. The 'washings' or 'coal slurry' derived from this process is a viscous black liquid containing fine particles of coal, mineral matter, and other dissolved and particulate substances. Coal slurry may be stored in impoundments or in abandoned underground mines.
Human health and environmental effects potentially resulting from leakage of chemical substances from coal slurry into drinking water supplies or aquatic ecosystems have not been systematically examined. Impoundments are semipermeable, presenting the possibility that inorganic and organic substances, some of which may be toxic, may contaminate ground or surface water. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has concluded that well water in Mingo County, West Virginia, constitutes a public health hazard.