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Mountaintop Removal, When Mountains Move, National Geographic

Mountaintop removal is a mining practice drastically transforming Appalachia. It is an antiseptic term used to describe the most profound assault on land imaginable.

Like a cancerous mutation of strip mining, entire mountaintops are blasted away to obtain a small seam of coal. Unwanted rock is pushed into valleys and streams, destroying natural watersheds, leaving no vegetation, and turning the terrain into unusable land.

So many small streambeds are dumped with the excess rock and dirt that the length of the Ohio River is filled in. The result is a threat to clean water and the biodiversity of the ecosystem. Flash flooding occurs where it never has before.

The Central Appalachian Plateau was created 4 million years ago, and one of its richest …

Mountaintop Removal, When Mountains Move, National Geographic

Mountaintop removal is a mining practice drastically transforming Appalachia. It is an antiseptic term used to describe the most profound assault on land imaginable.

Like a cancerous mutation of strip mining, entire mountaintops are blasted away to obtain a small seam of coal. Unwanted rock is pushed into valleys and streams, destroying natural watersheds, leaving no vegetation, and turning the terrain into unusable land.

So many small streambeds are dumped with the excess rock and dirt that the length of the Ohio River is filled in. The result is a threat to clean water and the biodiversity of the ecosystem. Flash flooding occurs where it never has before.

The Central Appalachian Plateau was created 4 million years ago, and one of its richest assets is wilderness containing some of the world’s oldest and biologically richest temperate zone hardwood forest.

Scotch Irish settlers came to the mountains and made homes in the protective hollers. Mountain life produced a rich culture, not as depressed or as quaint as often pictured.

Mining has always been a way of life in Appalachia. West Virginians have always lived with the backdrop of the coal train passing by. Money has always gone out of town on that train—it is no coincidence that some of the poorest people in the US live in coal country. But the area had other assets and families felt this was a safe place to raise their children. The reality now is that mountaintop removal is a threatening these people’s lives.

Coal is floated in chemicals to wash away heavy metals and impurities. The wash water is poison. Hundreds of feet above many homes and communities are impoundments or slurry ponds. Usually unseen from the road, they are pockets of poisoned mining wastewater behind a dam. If one dam fails, the slurry runs into the creek or stream and roadways in the valley below. The water is a toxic witch’s brew of arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals and chemicals. There are some 500 impoundments in West Virginia alone. Some sit directly over abandoned mine tunnels which snake beneath the ground and are weakening because of blasting at nearby mine sites.

Politicians and mine officials assure residents that the impoundments are safe. Yet, during a thunderstorm in the fall of 2000, more than 260 billion gallons of sludge poured out of a mountain surrounding people’s homes, contaminating the drinking water in 17 communities.

The result of this mining is environmental and cultural genocide. Mining has pitted neighbor against neighbor and has divided families. People do not trust each other. Coal companies buy out family homes and entire communities, and individuals who stand their ground face intimidation and threats from mine representatives. Some families are forced or tricked into selling. Churches and schools close. Houses are burned down.

Coal is big business—a $23 billion per year industry. West Virginia produces approximately 170 million tons of coal annually. Although most people think of it as dirty and antiquated, coal produces 52 percent of the nation’s electricity.

It is estimated that 20 percent of the mountaintops have been leveled and by the industry’s own projections and current levels of production, West Virginia’s coal will last another 27 years. Then the coal, and the mountains, will be gone.

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The Heartbreak of Kayford Mountain Backyard Mine Surface Mine Pit Roadside Flea Market in Appalachia Life In A Hollow Ginseng Hunters Leveled Mountain In The Snow Golf Course A Reclaimed Mine Site Flash Floods Turns Roads Into Streams Bad Water Citizens Fight Back In Court Sunday Afternoon Is For Visiting Family Reunion Packing Up Family Treasures Burning Down The House
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