We Have Done It For Years Here are 5 Ways It is Destroying Our Environment

Besides the fact that we produce massive quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, affecting this planet and increasing the level of climate change effects, we also engage in mountaintop removal. Do you know how mountaintop removal affects the environment? Mountaintop removal severely affects the environment, destroying hundreds of habitats and affecting animal species and that it’s not all. The Appalachian area holds one of the oldest diverse mountain systems in the world on the continent.


How Does Mountaintop Removal Affect the Environment

Unfortunately, mountaintop removal mining already destroyed over 500 mountains, summing up to 1 million acres of Southern and Central Appalachia. Several coal companies blast apart all the mountaintops in the area, dumping all the detritus into neighboring valleys. In those valleys, some headwaters of rivers and streams, such as Big Sandy, Clinch, and Kanawha, were affected.

Therefore, the exposed detritus percolates dangerous toxins into the water, jeopardizing the safety and health of many animal species and also people.

1. Fish

Since the water quality in the Appalachian area decreased due to many pollutants, fish experience habitat degradation, the may develop abnormalities or their population can significantly decline. The U.S. Geological Survey indicates in a study from 2014 that fish populations living downstream of mountain removal site considerably dropped by two-thirds between 1999 and 2011.

The study underlines the importance of the loss of appropriate habitat because of valley fills. The detritus, as well as mining pollution, affected the water streams, triggering the extinction of some fish species. Unfortunately, all aquatic species suffered due to water pollution. High levels and concentrations of selenium add up to the scarcity as well as lower quality of fish’s prey.

Furthermore, high levels of electrical conductivity also affected aquatic creatures. These alterations are strongly connected to developmental abnormalities observed in West Virginia fish. We should know that not only fish suffer due to mountaintop removal activities, but also other aquatic species. Doug Wood is a biologist for West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection.

He indicates that a whole order of mayfly completely vanished from the streams below valley fills. It is outrageous how human activities led to the complete extinction of a whole species that was native to that region. Furthermore, native salamander populations also appear to be absent in the regions surrounding mountaintop removal sites. Their number has significantly reduced, indicating the clear transformation of a lush habitat into a dry environment.

2. Birds

In Appalachia, there are many birds species which depend on mature forest habitats. The American Bird Conservancy claims that the mining operations affected the Cerulean warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, Wood thrush, Worm-eating warbler and the Kentucky warbler. Furthermore, Cerulean warblers are the most affected birds since their population dropped almost 70% since 1966.

This species needs the shaded streams and the mixed hardwood cove forests to survive. Unfortunately, their habitat is slowly disappearing, leaving behind deserted patches of land.

3. Forests

According to EPA, mountaintop removal mining destroyed 1.4 million acres of Appalachian forests by 2012. The topsoil and other upper portions of rock have been eliminated. Hence, the remaining soil is unable to develop native hardwood forest.

Unfortunately, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act from 1977 does not force coal companies to plant trees and reforest that land. Therefore, the terrain which once had beautiful tall trees and animals is now just some flat fields. There grow non-native grasses because the traditional forests that used to be there take a lot longer to grow back. Most likely, they will never do. Therefore, besides the disappearance of a stunning forest system, several animal species are also affected since they need to migrate.

Rampant deforestation in this area may transform this region from a carbon sink into a carbon source by 2025 to 2033. The southern Appalachia is known as a carbon sink because it gathers and holds carbon dioxide. We all know that this gas is responsible for the amplification of the climate change.

4. Water

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that valley fills from mountaintop removal buried over 2,000 miles of crucial headwater streams in the Appalachian area. Furthermore, these valley fills poisoned many streams, putting in danger the life of hundreds of species inhabiting the forests.

Hence, rivers situated downstream of mountaintop removal mines registers increased levels of selenium and sulfate while also increasing the electrical conductivity. This sort of water pollution does not only poses a great threat to the people and animals who use it, but also for the fish and other aquatic species living in it. All these alterations in the water quality can disrupt the life cycles of hundreds of species. Therefore, many species may completely disappear from this region.

For several years, all this mountaintop removal mining and valley fills happened under the Bush Administration. However, in 2002 a new definition of mining waste allowed miners to dump the detritus in the valley. This influenced the coal industry to accelerate the mining process, triggering terrible consequences.

Nevertheless, a proposed legislation named the Clean Water Protection Act reversed the questionable definition, restoring the full protection of the act to Appalachia’s rivers and streams.

5. Biodiversity

Scientists indicate that Central Appalachia is a special region in America. This area, including southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, northeastern Tennessee, and southwest Virginia represents the home of several animal and plant species. Many of these species are exclusive to this area. Therefore, they may soon be on the verge of extinction if coal mining efforts do not seize to stop in these regions.

The World Wildlife Fund indicates that Appalachia nurtures one of the most important collections of animals and plants in the temperate deciduous forests in the world. Unfortunately, the area turned to become the heart of mountaintop removal mining activities.

removed mountain tops


Summing up

All sorts of human-made activities affect this planet, almost leading it to an end. If you were wondering how does mountaintop removal affect the environment, you know have the sad truth. Many plant and animal species die, or they are on the verge of extinction, while water streams and rivers suffer pollution. This is a landscape that only triggers mercy.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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