Mountaintop Removal Mining Toxic to Local Streams, EPA Data Shows

An analysis of water tested downstream from mountaintop removal mining operations in Appalachia shows high levels of toxins, with some samples testing 50 times the U.S. safety guidelines, according to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An independent analysis of previously
Photo by John McQuaid
Runoff from a West Virginia operation
unreleased data suggests that 14 of 17 sites tested in West Virginia and Kentucky in 2007 and 2009 exceed federal standards for toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium. Six of nine West Virginia sites tested above safe levels for toxins and all eight Kentucky sites exceeded that level, with two sites registering extremely high readings. The data, which was not available publicly until requested under the federal Freedom of Information Act by environmental groups, was analyzed by toxicologist Carys L. Mitchelmore at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “This is the first-line red flag,” Mitchelmore told the Charleston Gazette. “This is the best way to show what the whole toxicity of that pollution is.” During the last two decades, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried by debris from mountaintop mining operations, which blast off the tops of mountains to get at the coal seams.