Serious health issues have always been associated with coal mining. We have heard for years about occupational diseases such as “black lung” afflicting miners.
Cases of Black Lung Disease Surge, NPR, July 9, 2012
Loopholes leave miners vulnerable to Black Lung Disease, NPR, July 10, 2012
Recent evidence suggests that there may be a link between coal’s impact on water and the health of people living nearby. In West Virginia, people living closer to coal mines also suffer a much cancer mortality. Read the full study.
Coal Companies Could Do Better
Effectively, companies that mine coal want to take the coal and leave the mess behind. One of the messes left behind results from washing coal onsite at the mine. The problem is that coal slurry, resulting from washing coal, contains toxic materials, none of which local people would ever choose to drink.
These pollutants contaminate ground water when they leak from impoundments, when they are dumped into ditches and streams and when the mining company injects them into the ground. Sunrise has said they plan to wash coal on site. Mining companies, like Sunrise, say they follow state regulations that allow them to dump of toxic wastes. The truth of the matter is that state regulations set standards that the mining company must meet. The company meets these standards simply by diluting the slurry water. The same bulk of toxins is still dumped or injected and may eventually contaminate the clean water we now use.
There are three options available that would limit the impacts of coal mining on the health of surrounding communities:
• Mining companies that want to profit from coal could be required to take responsibility for safely disposing of the toxic materials produced as well.
• Mining companies could use some of their profits to invest in methods for treating toxic waste to render it harmless, or better yet use dry methods to clean coal, thereby preventing contamination of clean water in the first place.
• Or, we could decide to keep coal underground where it is safely locked away and presents no threat to humans.
Landowners are, after all, in the driver’s seat until they lease. And landowners who want to lease have a great opportunity to build safeguards into the leases they offer to a mining company. For details, see the Lease With Landowner Protections.