Environmental Impacts of Coal Mining and Health Implications
Apart from the most obvious environmental impact in the form of subsidence (the lowering of the land surface under which the mining was carried out), other serious environmental impacts are caused by coal mining pollution. These documented include toxic dust which causes severe respiratory infections, contamination of underground water sources, heavy metal contamination, radioactive contamination of the environment, damage to river beds, mercury emissions, vast quantities of waste rock that need proper disposal and acid mine drainage from abandoned mines where water seeps in and collects. The costs to human health from coal mining pollution include asthma, cancers, cardiovascular illness, gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, birth defects in newborn babies, impairment of immunity, neurobehavioral diseases, diabetes, bone and blood disorders and renal diseases.
Longwall mining is carried out directly under riverbeds or close to agricultural areas and the direct environmental impacts include:
• Cracking of the riverbed and rock bars.
• Surface water is diverted to the shallow sub-strata.
• Floods or drying out.
• Erosion resulting in alteration of the natural habitats of rare species (Evans, 2000).
• Changes to stream of flow alignment.
• Changes to surface and ground water quality.
• Impacts on the land as well as aquatic life of the affected area (Kay et al, 2006).
Coal mining pollution has resulted in severe environmental impacts on the agricultural communities which live along the Appalachian corridor in the US and in many other parts of the world. The agricultural land of these communities has been destroyed, water sources are running dry and rivers are draining out due to subsidence and cracking of river beds. The coal mining pollution resulting from cracks in the riverbed has compromised the water quality, making it poisonous and unfit for human consumption. The destruction of the natural habitats of many species of flora as well as fauna, leading to subsequent reduction of biodiversity in the affected areas is very severe. The diversity and survival of the affected area’s flora and fauna is mainly dependent on the amounts of available moisture in the soil. As the moisture content is being depleted due to coal mining pollution, many species like the stream-dwelling seal and the northern two-lined salamanders (these are found near West Virginia streams) have shown a consistent decline in population over the years (Stout, 2004). The fertility and biodiversity of the area has been damaged irreparably due to lost aquifers, dried up streams and massive water pollution. The public health problems in surrounding communities resulting from coal mining pollution are on the rise.