To Summit All Up

by Anna Lee on February 21, 2014

The Appalachian Region, spanning a large part of the eastern United States is blanketed with beauty; rivers snake between a mountainous terrain sure to satisfy any granola-crunchy outdoor junky. However, what many people do not know  is that more land than the size of Delaware has been destroyed recently through the acts of mountaintop removal mining, which is threatening the area’s ecosystem as well as the health of the Appalachian people.

A coal mining site in West Virginia resulting from mountaintop removal

A coal mining site in West Virginia resulting from mountaintop removal

Looking at the scenery, one would never guess that millions of coal seems lie hidden within the mountains of Appalachia. These untapped coal supplies are tempting to our energy thirsty society. The term Mountaintop Removal means exactly what it sounds like. After clearing the mountain’s peak area through deforestation, explosives are often used to destroy the land at the mountain’s summit to quite literally, remove its top.

Deforestation and land destruction is only the beginning of the detrimental effects of mountaintop removal. Once the coal seems have been exposed, the coal mining process begins. Not only is coal mining hazardous to the environment, but it is also a dangerous task, killing 100,000 miners over the past century. One large factor of these deaths is the hazardous gases that coal mining releases into the atmosphere. These gases often contain methane, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which can seep into the atmosphere and spread to the surrounding areas, causing lung disease and other related illnesses.

The initial blasts to clear the land can sometimes go awry. If the blasts are not planned carefully or performed on unstable terrain, areas at the base of the mountain may be more susceptible to mountain runoff or heavy floods. While damaging the land below as well as the soil’s quality, this runoff can potentially damage the homes of the Appalachian people.

Furthermore, the mining process at the height of the mountain can lead to widespread water contamination of surrounding communities. The substances iron and manganese contribute to the yellow, murky drinking water that results from mountaintop removal at nearly more than half of the safe level. Companies such as mountaintop removal companies found a loophole in Bush’s 2002 Clean Water Act, allowing them to dump harmful chemicals into the local waterways.

In recent years, steps have been taken by communities impacted by mountaintop removal, as well as environmental protection agencies and public health initiatives. The mining companies have not ceased their efforts to extract the dirty energy hidden beneath the beauty of Appalachia, despite its numerous and visible impacts on both the environment and its people.



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