It’s official: strip-mining for coal using the massively disruptive process known as “mountaintop removal” definitively pollutes streams and rivers.
Duke University researchers just announced the results of a new study (published July 2012 in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal) that quantitatively links the amount of mining activity within West Virginia watersheds to levels of key pollutants downstream, including sulfates, selenium and other metals with known environmental and human health effects. This is significant (groundbreaking, actually) because, as one researcher puts it, the results
directly link changes in the stream water chemistry to the area of the watersheds that has been disturbed by mining activities.
How did the team determine the area of the watersheds that was impacted by mining? Glad you asked: SkyTruth’s work provided a key component of this study. Our satellite image analysis of surface mining impacts throughout Appalachia from the 1970s through the 2000s gave researchers the spatial and temporal information they needed to correlate mining activity with water-quality measurements.
Now we have a predictive tool, a way to forecast the water-quality impacts of proposed new mining activity. This may mean mining companies need to figure out ways to better protect water quality if they hope to get new mining permits approved. That’s good news for aquatic creatures, and great news for those of us humans living downstream who drink this water every day.