August 11, 2012

West Virginia streams damaged by coal mining

Coal mining companies like to boast about their safety records, for both miners and the environment. But a closer look reveals that the proverbial canary in the Appalachia mine may not be so healthy on the surface either.

Is it not enough that the mountain tops need to be blown to smithereens? A new study at Duke and Baylor shows that one in five streams in southern West Virginia are now damaged. Water pollution from surface coal mining has degraded more than 22 percent of streams and rivers  to the point they may now qualify as impaired under state criteria.  There have been substantial losses in aquatic insect biodiversity (such as dragonflies and mayflies) and increased salinity linked to sulfates and other pollutants in runoff from mines often located miles upstream.

During recent years, 5 percent of the land there has been converted into mine sites, burying 480 miles of streams. That is significant by itself. But runoff pollution could substantially degrade more than 1,400 miles of streams in the region.