The Environmental Impacts of Coal Mining

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Coal mining can cause adverse environmental impacts if environmental precautions are not taken. In the past, strip mining would severely damage most environmental value in the surrounding land. In response to negative land effects of coal mining and the abundance of abandoned mines, the federal government enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), which requires reclamation plans for future coal mining sites. Reclamation plans must be approved and permitted by federal or state authorities before mining begins. As of 2003, over 2 million acres (8000 km²) of previously mined lands have been reclaimed in the United States.

All forms of mining are likely to generate areas where coal is stacked and where the coal has significant sulphur content, such coal heaps generate highly acidic, metal-laden drainage when exposed to rainfall. These liquors can cause severe environmental damage to receiving water-courses. Coal mining releases approximately twenty toxic release chemicals, of which 85% is said to be managed on site. In modern mining, operations must, under federal and state law, meet standards for protecting surface and ground waters from contamination, including acid mine drainage (AMD). To mitigate these problems, water is continuously monitored at coal mines. The five principal technologies used to control water flow at mine sites are: diversion systems, containment ponds, groundwater pumping systems, subsurface drainage systems, and subsurface barriers. In the case of AMD, contaminated water is generally pumped to a treatment facility that neutralizes the contaminants. Still, AMD remains a large problem, emanating from coal mines abandoned in the United States prior to SMCRA.

It is also thought that coal mining is harmful to the quality of air in the surrounding regions. However, it is not the mining of coal but the burning of coal in power plants that can be harmful to air quality. Also miners get a Chronic lung diseases called: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which occures from the fine dust being airbourne by the mining.

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