Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


OREM, William H.1, TATU, Calin2, CROSBY, Lynn M.3, VARONKA, Matthew S.1, BATES, Anne L.1, ENGLE, Mark4, GEBOY, Nicholas J.3 and HENDRYX, Michael S.5, (1)Eastern Energy Resources Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 956, Reston, VA 20192, (2)University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Timisoara, 300708, Romania, (3)U.S. Geological Survey, 956 National Center, Reston, VA 20192, (4)U.S. Geological Survey, El Paso, TX 79930, (5)School of Public Health, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506,

Surface mining, including mountaintop removal mining, has become an increasingly important form of coal production in Appalachia over the past 20 years. Compared to underground mining, surface mining is generally more economical, and safer for miners, but may have greater environmental and human health impacts on the surrounding region. Recent epidemiological studies suggest that there are health disparities, including higher rates of respiratory and kidney disease and some cancers, between surface mining areas of West Virginia and areas of the state without surface mining. However, studies linking these apparent health disparities to surface mining of coal are lacking, and it is unclear what contaminants, if any, from surface mining might impact human health.

In order to address this question, the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with West Virginia University has undertaken a study of water, soil and air quality in selected areas of coal surface mining. This presentation will focus on preliminary findings from studies of surface and ground water in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia compared to internal and external control areas with no surface mining. Both conductivity and pH were elevated substantially in surface and ground water from multiple samples taken from surface mining areas during a four-season period compared to controls. Many surface and ground water samples in the Coal River Valley had pH values of 8-9 and conductivities exceeding 1000 microSiemens, compared to pH values of 6-7 and conductivities of <200 microSiemens in control areas. Surface mining areas showed elevated ammonium and phosphate concentrations, with high ammonium possibly linked to ammonium nitrate which is used as an explosive in mountaintop removal mining. Total extractable hydrocarbons were elevated, and coal-derived organic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and phenols were measured in many surface and ground water samples from surface mining areas, including some that were used as drinking water supplies. These observations suggest, but do not prove, a possible link between surface mining and alterations to water quality. Ongoing studies will attempt to provide evidence in support of or against a link between previously-identified health disparities and surface mining of coal.