Coal Mining: SkyTruth Work Helps Link Mountaintop Removal and Water Pollution

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.

1 reply
  1. Sophie says:

    Join us on September 25-7 in Washington, D.C. at Appalachia Rising, a mass mobilization calling for the abolition of mountaintop removal and surface mining. Appalachia Rising is is a national response to the poisoning of America’s water supply, the destruction of Appalachia’s mountains, head water source streams, and communities through mountaintop removal coal mining. It follows a long history of social action for a just and sustainable Appalachia.
    Appalachia Rising strives to unite coalfield residents, grass roots groups, individuals, and national organizations to call for the abolition of mountaintop removal coal mining and demand that America’s water be protected from all forms of surface mining.

    Appalachia Rising will consist of two events. First, the weekend conference, Sept. 25-26, Appalachia Rising, Voices from the Mountains will provide an opportunity to build or join the movement for justice in Appalachia through strategy discussions and share knowledge across regional and generational lines. The second event on Monday, Sept.27, is the Appalachia Rising Day of Action which will unify thousands in calling for an end to mountaintop removal and all forms of steep slope surface mining though a vibrant march and rally. An act of dignified non-violent civil disobedience will be possible for those who wish to express themselves by risking arrest.

    For more info, visit

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