A much lauded scientific journal recently released a Duke University study called Cumulative Impacts of Mountaintop Mining on an Appalachian watershed. The study provides evidence of the long-term, irreversible effects of the most commonly used mining practice in the United States through measurements taken for water quality. According to a conclusion made by Ty Lindberg and his fellow researchers at Duke, multiple mines in one area created empirical damage and that even mines “reclaimed nearly two decades ago continue to contribute significantly to water quality degradation.”
The Duke research team assessed the Upper Mud watershed by collecting various samples from 23 sites for surface mining, reclaimed ones and active ones. They measured electrical conductivity, salinity, ion concentration levels, and tested for coal trace elements. Results showed that when taking samples from the Upper Mud River which flows through the Hobet 21 mining complex (which has been active for three decades), mine discharge levels downstream were dangerously harmful to aquatic life. Researchers also found concentrations of selenium which caused deformities in fish collected downstream. Concentrations of other inorganic solutes such as sulfate and magnesium rose as well.
An associate professor of biogeochemistry, Emily Bernhardt, commented on the study, pleased with the data’s accuracy and the fact that this has been one of the first studies released on the cumulative effects of various mining operations, not just on one. It is nothing new that mining destroys habitat, ruins water quality, and undermines ecosystems as a whole, but this study has shown the huge effects with strong patterns.
Written By Halina Rachelson