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Chunk of road sends ash flying

| Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

Stewart Diess surveyed the blanket of silt, abandoned tires and tree trunks that had washed into his Forward neighborhood in the past 24 hours.

"We never expected anything like this," Diess, 59, said while shoveling black sludge out of his driveway Wednesday.

Diess' house and eight others on Rostosky Ridge Road were buffeted by thousands of tons of ash and water that came roaring down the wooded hillside behind their homes about 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Neighbors said a 100-by-100-foot chunk of embankment along nearby Riverview Road broke free Tuesday and sent a river of black sludge cascading through Diess' neighborhood in a small hollow next to the Monongahela River.

Residents and Forward volunteer firefighters were working with backhoes and shovels to clear the mess yesterday.

No one was injured in the slide, and damage to property was minimal, but Diess and his neighbors worry about possible toxic materials in the ash.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials said they did not know what might be contained in the ash dumped into the hillside ravine 60 years ago. But they said they doubted the material posed a risk.

"It's possible that metals could leach out, but we don't consider that a significant threat," DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys-Short said.

Activist Lisa Graves-Marcucci wasn't so sure.

"What are the long-term effects?" asked Graves-Marcucci, 45, of Jefferson Hills, a member of the nonprofit Jefferson Action Group. The group works to inform the public of the dangers of fly ash, a by-product of the coal burning process. Fly ash contains mercury, lead and other contaminants, she said.

Humphreys-Short said DEP officials planned to grant an emergency contract to find a contractor to clear the stream behind Diess' home in case more water and ash come down. Officials do not know what caused the slide, she said.

A pool of water had formed last night on the hillside below Riverview Road, but environmental officials said there was no further flooding threat.

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