Negative Effects of Coal Mining

A cheap but dirty fuel source…

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Tons of coal mined

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TheWorldCounts, 05 August, 2014

A cheap but dirty fuel source…

We have started to look for other sources of renewable energy, but to date, coal is still the number one energy source. Coal provides 40% of the world’s electricity and it produces 39% of global Carbon Dioxide emissions. It’s one of the drivers of our current issue with Global Warming.

It’s a dirty source of fuel and it’s destructive to people and the environment from the moment it is mined.

The effects of mining coal on the environment

There are 2 ways to mine coal – Strip Mining and Underground Mining – both ways have their own impact to the environment and health. We know it but coal is such a cheap energy source that we don’t want to let go of it.

The negative effects of coal mining cannot be disputed:

  • Destruction of Landscapes and Habitats: Strip mining also known as surface mining, involves the stripping away of earth and rocks to reach the coal underneath. If a mountain happens to be standing in the way of a coal seam within, it will be blasted or levelled - effectively leaving a scarred landscape and disturbing ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

More: Impact of Ecosystem Destruction

  • Deforestation and Erosion: As part of the process of clearing the way for a coal mine, trees are cut down or burned, plants uprooted and the topsoil scraped away. This results in the destruction of the land (it can no longer be used for planting crops) and soil erosion. The loosened topsoil can be washed down by rains and the sediments get into rivers, streams and waterways. Downstream, they can kill the fish and plant life and block river channels which cause flooding.

More: Coal Mining Effects on the Environment

  • Contaminates Ground Water: The minerals from the disturbed earth can seep into ground water and contaminate water ways with chemicals that are hazardous to our health. An example would be Acid Mine Drainage. Acidic water can flow out of abandoned coal mines. Mining has xposed rocks which contain the sulphur-bearing mineral, Pyrite. This mineral reacts to air and water to form sulphuric acid. When it rains, the diluted acid gets into rivers and streams and can even seep into underground sources of water.
  • Chemical, Air & Dust Pollution: Underground mining allows coal companies to dig for coal deeper into the ground. The problem is that huge amounts of earth and rock are brought up from the bowels of the earth. These mining wastes can become toxic when they are exposed to air and water. Examples of toxins are mercury, arsenic, fluorine and selenium. The amount of dust generated in mining operations can be carried to nearby towns by the wind. These dust particles can cause all kinds of health problems for humans who are exposed to it.
  • Methane in the Atmosphere: Coal mine methane emissions from underground mining are often caught and used as town fuel, chemical feedstock, vehicle fuel and industrial fuel – but very rarely is everything captured. Methane is less prevalent in the atmosphere as compared to carbon dioxide, but it is 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.
  • Coal Fires: Fires from underground mines can burn for centuries! These fires release smoke into the atmosphere - smoke which contains carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other toxic greenhouse gases.
  • Health Hazards: Coal dust inhalation can cause black lung disease. Miners and those who live in nearby towns are the most affected. Cardiopulmonary disease, hypertension, COPD, and kidney disease are found in higher than normal rates in people who live near coal mines.
  • Displacement of Communities: All of these negative effects force people to move to other places as their air and water gets polluted and expanding coal mines make use of more and more of their habitat.

Read more about the contributors to our current environmental problems and how you can help in your own small way. One positive action towards the right direction can help reverse the damages to our environment.

Visit The World Counts: Stories and know the story behind the numbers. Because the world counts. You count.


References

  1. Greenpeace: Mining Impacts
  2. National Geographic: Coal
  3. SourceWatch: Environmental Impacts of Coal

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