Western Pennsylvania Coalition
for Abandoned Mine Reclamation
Mining practices of the past created today's environmental problems
Talk to anyone who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and chances are they will be familiar with the terms yellow boy, honey pile, red dog, gob pile, ash dump, and sulfur creek. These are the nicknames given to the coal mining scars left behind after the coal was mined, and the company went out of business.
Once upon a time in Western Pennsylvania, a stream running orange with iron from mine drainage was a sign of prosperity - a sign that meant a productive coal mine was in operation nearby. The mine may have been productive, but the stream was dead, serving only as an industrial toilet, a "sulfur creek."
Few people knew exactly why the sulfur creeks were orange and devoid of life. It had something to do with the mines, but the mines were a way of life and it looked like the sulfur creeks and the boney piles (mounds of waste coal) were here to stay.
Mine Water Toxins
Abandoned mine drainage (AMD) usually contains iron that smothers the stream bed and stains it bright orange destroying aquatic habitat. AMD sometimes contains aluminum that stains stream beds white and poisons aquatic life. Passive treatment systems are designed to remove iron and aluminum.
A Wake Up Call...
It took fewer than 100 years for the careless coal mining practices of the past to degrade much of Western Pennsylvania's streams and landscapes. When an increasing number of mines were no longer productive, they were often abandoned - a problem today's generations now face.
In 1977, Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), establishing laws and taxes which require present-day coal mine operators to take responsibility for the reclamation and restoration of the land that they temporarily disturb while mining coal. Because of SMCRA and other incentives, modern-day coal operators now play an important role in maintaining our environment.
But more work still needs to be done to heal the scars of the past.
PO Box 295 Luxor, Pennsylvania 15662
© Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation