Study Reveals Changes to Water Chemistry in Mountaintop Mining Catchment


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Mountaintop Coal Mining: Research Findings Continued

Mountaintop mining has attracted considerable opposition. Photo by Russ Walker

The researchers found that increases in conductivity and in the concentration of sulfates, magnesium and, crucially, selenium, which is toxic to marine life, were below detectable levels above the mine workings but that lower down the watershed they increased proportionately to the area of worked ground above them. Significantly, the process applied equally to both current and reclaimed streams and, according to the study’s co-author, Ty Lindberg, may be applicable to other areas with similar geology.

Environmental Study: Crucial Findings

According to Lindberg, the crucial finding of the research is that it demonstrates a strong correlation between levels of solutes and the area mined. Lindberg told Decoded Science today that, “These changes to water chemistry are long lasting, cumulative and start to occur after a relatively (10% or less) small amount of surface mining disturbance in the stream’s headwaters.”


Environmental Protection Agency. Mid-Atlantic Mountaintop Mining. Accessed December 12, 2011.

Lindberg, T. et al. Cumulative impacts of mountaintop mining on an Appalachian watershedProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December 12, 2011). Accessed December 12, 2011.

Pond, G.J. et al. Downstream effects of mountaintop coal mining: comparing biological conditions using family-and genus-level macroinvertebrate bioassessment tools. The North American Benthological Society. (2008). Accessed December 12, 2011.

Vozzella, L. Mountaintop mining foes stage rally.Washington Post. (November 2011). Accessed December 12, 2011.

West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. West Virginia coal mining facts. Accessed December 12, 2011.

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