Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Orange Poison: How Toxins in Ohio Streams Are Being Turned into Works of Art

 by Nomad

When you hear Mr. Trump talk about opening new mines, there's something he doesn't mention about coal mines. We all know about the environmental damage caused by burning coal. Parts of China have been rendered uninhabitable from the coal smoke pollution. And of course, as a carbon, coal adds to the greenhouse gas levels.

However, what is less discussed is the harm caused by mines themselves. That's true even for mine operations that have long been shut down. Decades after the mines have been closed, and the companies have been forgotten, and any person who had anything to do with the mine has become a permanent underground fixture,  the poisons continue to leach out of the ground.

It's not exactly a secret.
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) aimed at forcing coal companies to address and incorporate the cost of reclamation in its business planning.  

The problem is that SMCRA doesn't cover mines that have been shut down before its enactment.
Our source points out:
In the decades preceding SMCRA’s enactment, thousands of bankrupt companies abandoned mines without reclaiming them. Many of these sites remain untreated today. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, restoring streams and watersheds across Pennsylvania that were damaged by acidic drainage from mines abandoned before 1977 would cost $5 billion to $15 billion. Similarly, reclaiming mining lands abandoned in West Virginia before SMCRA will cost an estimated $1.3 billion or more.
In Ohio, abandoned underground mines, or AUMs are mostly coal-related and are present in 35 of Ohio's 88 counties.
According to data from the geological survey office, Ohio is now home to about 5,000 documented AUMs. As many as 2,000 additional AUMs might exist for which there are no records.
...The mines run under 2 percent of Ohio's surface, roughly 800 square miles. They account for a combined area about three-fourths the size of Rhode Island.
Both documented and undocumented AUMs have been polluting streams and creeks for many decades, transforming the water into a lurid reddish orange and poisoning with sulfuric acid, dissolved metals, and sediments. The acidification alone has left many streams lifeless.

Although some polluted waterways have been cleaned up, a lack of funding has made dealing with acid-mine drainage impossible in others. As one source points out, another problem is actually pinpointing the sources of the pollution.

Records that indicate which mines have polluted waterways are harder to track down, but 1,300 miles of streams or creeks have been polluted in Ohio because of water from coal mines, the data show.

The following video explores the work of two men from different fields who are laboring to tackle this problem, transforming something deadly into something life-sustaining and beautiful.   

Here are a few samples of artist John Sabraw's work.