Keepers of the Mountains Foundation speakers share mountaintop removal experiences
By Michelle Robinson, CG News
Monday evening, United Campus Ministries brought two representatives from the Keepers of the Mountains Foundation to discuss mountaintop removal in Appalachia during a free community presentation at Vernon R. Alden Library.
Donna Branham and Debbie Graff, representatives of the Keepers of the Mountains Foundation in West Virginia, spoke about mountaintop removal and its effects on the environment.
The representatives showed a film called “The Hidden Destruction of the Appalachian Mountains.” It explained the steps of mountaintop removal, a process used to collect coal from the summit of a mountain.
Deforestation is the first step of the coal removal process. Explosives are then used to blast up to 600 feet of a single mountaintop, and the revealed coal is collected.
The Appalachian Mountains extend from Alabama to Maine, but mountaintop removal occurs mostly in Virginia and West Virginia. The representatives mentioned one area in particular affected by mountaintop removal, Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, which has over 7,500 acres of land that has been touched by the coal extraction process.
The representatives discussed other potential environmental effects of mountain top removal.
During the blasting process, erosion and remnants of the mountain can leak into surrounding bodies of water and contaminate streams and rivers. After mountaintop removal, the land is also unable to absorb vast amounts of rainfall, which can result in flash flooding and a loss of vegetation.
“Everybody wants the benefits from coal, but nobody wants to hear about the side effects,” Branham said. Mountaintop removal and its side effects are kept secret from the community, she said and has operated since the 1970s under the term of “strip mining.”
Additional side effects from the mountaintop removal process include noise pollution from the drilling and blasts. The blasts have also caused the foundations of homes in surrounding areas to crack.
“It’s been a curse to our land,” Branham said. “We lived with a constant layer of dust. Dust can get into homes and get into the refrigerator. Nothing is safe from dust.”
Traces of selenium, mercury and lead have been found in contaminated water as well, the representatives said, and people who use contaminated water face a higher risk of getting sick.
The representatives also pointed out that scientific research has shown that there is a 42 percent higher cancer rate for people living in communities near mountaintop removal sites. According to the film, other negative health effects include experiencing seizures, developing mental disorders and deaths, in as young as 2-year-olds, have been recorded from exposure to mountaintop removal pollutants.
Graff said she grew up with coal miners but didn’t realize the devastating effects of mountaintop removal until recently. She said that mountaintop removal is “something that is allowed to go on – they [coal miners] aren’t bad people, but they don’t give it a second thought.”
As of 2005, mountaintop removal has flattened 500 square miles of mountains in Appalachia. The representatives said the process is growing and replacing underground mining, and there are currently no plans for alternate coal extraction in Appalachia.
The Keepers of the Mountains’ mission is to promote sustainable living in surrounding mountain areas and to rally the community to help end mountaintop removal. To learn more about the Keepers of the Mountains Foundation, click here.