The Appalachian Mountains extend from southeastern Canada to central Alabama with foothills in northeastern Mississippi. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the U.S. yet it is being devastated by mountaintop coal removal and other coal related problems.
In December of 2008 the Tennessee Valley Authority’s ash storage pond spilled over on to 400 acres and polluted the water of Kingston, TN. This amount of toxic waste was 10 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill.
This isn’t the only spill the Appalachian Mountains have had. One of the most resent was March of 2009 when coal ash spilled into the Potomac River in Luke, MD. The Maryland Department of the Environment reported that a pipeline had ruptured dumping 4,000 gallons of toxic coal ash in to the river.
Coal ash contains uranium and thorium, both of which are radioactive. While very small amounts are found in “whole” coal, when it’s burned the coal ash ends up with 10 times the original levels of the radioactive materials. Coal ash also contains high concentrations of mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals.
Coal ash is nowhere near the only problem coal is causing the people of Appalachia. Mountaintop coal removal is another byproduct that is not only harmful to the environment but to the people of Appalachia as well.
Mountaintop coal removal is allowed to be as close as 300 feet to homes. Being this close to people can cause huge amounts of damage to homes around the blast site. The regular blasts are 10 to 100 times stronger than the Oklahoma City bombing!
This type of mining is also devastating to the landscape and our environment. As the name states the tops of the mountains are blown off. These are mountains we will never get back.
But all coal mining has its health and environmental effects. Areas around coal mines have very high levels of mercury, a known neurotoxin that can cause permanent damage, especially in children.
And the risk to the miners is the highest of all. They are risking their lives every time they set foot into a mine. Of the miners that work 25 years or more, 13% will end up with black lung.
A mine also contains methane gas and if it’s not vented well enough the risk of an explosion is very high. This is what happened in the Sago Mine Disaster in January of 2006. This tragedy left 13 miners trapped for nearly two days. Only one of them survived.
Sadly the people of Appalachia are often a forgotten people. The unemployment is more than double the US average in some areas of Appalachia. And they have the shortest life spans in the nation. There are few jobs in the remote towns of Appalachia other than coal mining, a line of work not many are able to perform.
When talking about “clean coal” we must remember the dirty start coal has in places like Appalachia. Coal comes with so many environmental risks and health hazards that we can’t keep relying on it forever.
As consumers we have a lot of power to help the people of Appalachia. We can contact our power companies and ask them to start offering clean energy, if they don’t already. If your power company does offer a clean power option be sure to use it.
We can also join sites like ILoveMountains.org and work to end the most environmentally harmful kind of mining, Mountaintop Removal. And we need to keep pushing for clean energy from start to finish. And we must not forget the people of Appalachia. For more information on Appalachia, check out Appalachian Voices.