An Analysis of the Impact of Mountain Top Removal Mines on Private Drinking Water Wells in West Virginia
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Mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) is currently the dominant driver of landuse change in the central Appalachians. It involves the clearing of forests, removal of topsoil, and use of explosives to remove the overburden above the coal seams. After mining is complete, some of the overburden is replaced and the excess is pushed into adjacent valleys. These valleyfills bury headwater streams and generate mine drainage, which contains elevated concentrations of sulfate and trace metals and metalloids with known toxicity. Numerous studies have reported that residents of counties where MTR occurs experience disproportionate levels of adverse health effects including increased rates of cancer mortality and birth defects. In this study, the link between MTR and community health was investigated by sampling and analyzing private drinking water wells and using geospatial statistical models to determine whether MTR is affecting drinking water quality. Over 30% of the wells sampled had concentrations of aluminum, manganese, and iron high enough to cause bad taste and staining. However, these concentrations were not correlated with distance from mining activity. Wells downstream of mines were found to have higher levels of selenium, uranium, sulfate, nitrate, and potassium, but none of these contaminants were present in concentrations that exceeded drinking water standards.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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