Coal mining: part 2 of 3 in fossil fuel series
Coal is one of the top three major fossil fuels. The methods of coal mining throughout the years have never been very safe. Even today, coal has big impacts on our air, environment and the people who live near the mining. There are 27 coal mining states in the U.S. The top four include: Montana, Illinois, Wyoming, and West Virginia.
There are many method for coal mining, but the most controversial one is mountain top removal (MTR). MTR is done by blasting apart a mountain to reach the seams of coal buried beneath. All of the rocks and rubble from the explosions have to go somewhere. So, the companies dump millions of ton of rocks, clogging streams below, and destroying ecosystems. MTR has already destroyed more than 500 mountain tops spreading across more than 1 million acres of central and southern Appalachia.
Water pollution and coal just seem to go hand in hand together. When old abandoned mines fill with water it mixes with bad chemicals, causing acid mine drainage that leaks into streams, rivers, and aquifers. Coal companies also contaminate a lot of water by using a method of separating the impurities from the coal, called washing. They “wash” the coal with chemically treated water. The nasty black sludge water that comes off of the coal is called slurry. According to the Sierra Club, “up to 90 million gallons of slurry is produced every year in the U.S.” The slurry usually gets stored in large waste pits called impoundments. These impoundments have been known to leak into local ground water.
Coal mining can affect anyone, The people of West Virginia have first hand experience of how it can disrupt our lives. In 2004, Dr. Diane Shafer, an orthopedic surgeon in Williamson WV, noticed that an increasing number of her patients in their 50’s were diagnosed with early onset dementia. At the same time she began hearing more and more complaints about thyroid problems, kidney stones and, stomach issues. Shafer also found that the incidents of cancer and birth defects where rising. Another citizen of WV, Ben Stout, tested the water from 15 local wells. What he found was not good. They were contaminated with heavy metals including. Lead, arsenic, beryllium,
and selenium. In several of the wells the level exceeded the federal drinking water standards by as much as 500%. Stout said, “The metals found in the wells were consistent with the metals in the slurry ponds.” A lot of people near mining or impoundment ponds had their water turn black. Sometimes they would wake up to coal dust covering everything.
Coal companies are trying to sell coal as clean energy, yet coal-burning plants are the #1 source of CO2. There is no such thing as “clean” coal.
A lot of coal companies say that without coal there would be no lights. That doesn’t have to be true. There are other options. In one documentary called Coal County it showed the coal miners conflicts. In many of the rural areas the workers have to choose between their families going hungry or working a job that will probably make them sick. Coal mining is a complicated issue, but despite everything, we can’t keep doing it.
Coal mining may have started out as something to bringing us into the future, but I see what it is doing to the people , the environment, and our water. I see it, and I don’t want that future. We can’t continue to use coal.
What can you do to help? Find out what is happening in your area, find out how coal is being mined or used in your state. Learn more. There is always more to learn. Check out http://www.powerpastcoal.org.
There are many people actively making a difference. Talk to them. And talk to your friends and family about why we shouldn’t use coal. You can make a difference.
Big Coal by: Jeff Goodell
The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by: Yoram Bauman, Grady Klein