Coal Pollution Invades the Water, Air, and Soil Amy Crowder Due to the lack of effort to clean the environment of coal mine pollutants, we the society continue to endure the effects of waste. Water, land, and air are the types of pollution we have to deal with each and every day of our lives. Water pollution affects rivers, lakes, and streams. It produces acid-mine drainage, consisting of iron, manganese, and aluminum. Every facet, involving water is effected by acid-pollution in the mines. Coal mining is a negative environmental factor in mountain top removal and strip-mining.
Due to the fact that our air is so full of pollutants from mining, we attribute many diseases to this problem. A majority of the streams in southern West Virginia have had acid run off from the coal mines. Once the coal seams open and oxygen is introduced, the process of acid-mine drainage begins (“Acid Mine Drainage”). The acid runoff is composed of various metals, but primarily iron, manganese, and aluminum. Water is a necessity of life. More than fifty percent of our body is composed of water. Therefore, water pollution is a critical factor in our lives.
In the early 1900s, coal miners didn’t care about the pollution they were causing and what effects it had on humans and the environment. It was not until 1977 that laws were enacted forcing the clean up (“Acid Mine Drainage. ) After many years of the water pollution problems, we are now faced with having to find solutions. A major environmental factor that is destroying the beautiful mountains of West Virginia is mountain top removal. The process of mountain mining begins by digging the rock and soil from the mountains (“Mountaintop Mining and Valley Fills”).
Coal seams are then uncovered and oxygen replaces the soil and rock. The volume of rock and soil increase due to the “swelling” of rock and soil, referred to as overburden. Because the overburden cannot be replaced, it is placed in a valley fill. Approximately four hundred sixty-seven miles of streams were buried in the valley fills (Joyce). Open-pit mining destroys our land by digging out rocks and minerals. The purpose of open-pit mines is to dig out low-sulfur coal (“Iron and Steel”). When the overburden is too thin, these types of mines are used.
Open-pit mines are extended until there aren’t any more minerals 1 to dig out. The largest one extended several kilometers long and five hundred feet deep. After iron ore has been removed, waste rock is left behind. It consists of acid-generating sulphides, and heavy metals, which is stored above ground in draining piles. Underground mining is when coal miners dig tunnels to reach large deposits of coal (“Iron and Steel”). The miners remove the coal by digging a shaft (hole) into the rock next to the deposit of coal. They drill tunnels horizontally into the coal at different ground levels.
The coal is lifted to the surface in buckets by railroad transportation or conveyor belts. Underground mining is more expensive and dangerous than open-pit mining. This method of mining effects our environment. The shafts, when not filled in, become sinkholes. Mines then become producers of acid mine waste. The shafts become sources for environmental waste. Air pollution is something we breathe every day. One of the most common pollutants is coal dust. It is very unsanitary because the coal dust is dirty and consists of sulfur and iron and aluminum particles, as well as other elements (“Chapter Twelve: Burdens of Coal”).
Coal miners dig out rocks that have high contents of organic material. Organic compounds from the coal react with oxygen in the air causing the quality of air to decrease. Coal contains natural gas, mostly methane, which leaks out of the mine into the air once the coal has been mined. Methane is the most dangerous natural gas. It is lighter than air and rises to the top of a mine. When a mine has been inactive for quite sometime, methane builds up in the shaft making it very hazardous. If a miner entered the mine with a lantern and came in contact with methane, it could kill him and cause an explosion in the mine.
The deeper the mines, the more the methane. It would ignite from sparks of mining tools. Miners used a method to test the mines for what type of gases were present. They took a small animal or bird in the mine with them. If the animal died, they knew the gas level was high. Twenty states, comprised of two hundred twenty four counties, with Kanawha County being one of them, failed to follow the federal air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency (Ward). One-half of all West Virginians live where air is polluted by small particles from coal mines.
Air pollution can lead to long or short-term illnesses due to the many pollutants in the air. Coal dust is very harmful to the lungs. Many years of exposure to dust has caused respiratory problems (“Chapter Twelve: The Burdens of Coal”). More dust was accumulated when machinery was used in the mines, and the coal miners breathe in twice as much as they did previously. The number one illness was black lung. Many miners were affected by this. Black 2 lung begins with inhalation of coal dust particles, which causes an inflammation in the upper part of the lungs (Joyce).
Then, it forms fibrous scars, causing the lungs to stiffen and decrease lung function. The only way to establish black lung is by a chest x-ray. Other than a transplant, there is no cure. Miners who are disabled by black lung receive payments by American Coal companies. In 1985, they paid the coal miners one billion dollars (“Chapter Twelve: The Burdens of Coal”). The Coal Act established safety standards for coal mines (Joyce). They provide free chest x-rays for coal miners and compensation funds for the ones disabled by black lung.
Thousands of miners die from explosions, roof collapses, gases, and black lung (Joyce). The mortality rate from lung diseases is sixty percent. Dust from any mineral can cause lung disease. Some of the minerals found in mines are aluminum oxide, cadmium oxide, graphite, and mica. In 1991, 150,000 coal miners were exposed to coal mine dust (Joyce). A new health issue that has been approached by coal miners is hearing loss. Thousands of hearing loss cases were reported before it had any affect on the reduction of the noise levels in the mines (Joyce).
Eighty percent of coal miners have a twenty-five decibel hearing loss by age sixty. Injury rates are higher in smaller mines. Coal miners who have to crawl on their knees have a greater chance of back injuries and carpal tunnel (Joyce). The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has regulations that protect the public health and prevent environmental degradation caused by air pollution (Citizen’s Guide: Office of Environmental Advocate 5). It is guided by Federal Clean Air Act; WV code, Chapter 22, Articles 5 and 18; rules 45 CSR series 1-38.
The Federal Clean Air Act established National Ambient Air Quality standards for particulate matter sulfur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and lead. Title V operating permits ensure sources of air pollution follow requirements of Clean Air Act (Citizen’s Guide: Office of Environmental Advocate 6). The Division of Mining and Reclamation oversees mining activities. This division is guided by various WV codes and rules (Citizen’s Guide: Office of Environmental Advocate 7). A coal mining permit ensures the preservation and integrity of land and water resources that will be disturbed by mining operations.
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System is to ensure the integrity of rivers and streams from coal and non-coal mining operations. Groundwater protection plan ensures the integrity of groundwater when it is disturbed by coal mines (Citizen 3 Guide: Office of Environmental Advocate 8). The Office of Explosives and Blasting regulates blasting activities involved with surface coal mining. They monitor inspections and investigations. The Office of Oil and Gas regulates drilling of oil and gas by overseeing industry through inspection.
It makes sure that the operators abide by the mine safety issues and related to location. The Division of Water and Waste management regulates the discharge of pollutants in waters of WV (Citizen’s Guide: Office of Environmental Advocate 9). It manages programs that protect groundwater, wetlands, and non-coal dams. Of all pollution, the most hazardous is air pollution. The Federal Government, as well as the State government, have enacted many laws and established policies for the control of air pollution, to no avail. Coal mines have been, and continue to be, the greatest source of pollution in the state. 4