Mountaintop Removal Mining Kills Fish
A biologist from Wake Forest University was scheduled to brief U.S. Senators today on yet another environmental problem caused by the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining: poisoned fish.
Dead and deformed fish in surrounding streams are a consequence of selenium pollution from mountaintop coal mining, which is causing permanent damage to the environment and poses serious health risks, says Dennis Lemly, a professor of biology.
Selenium pollution affects fish first, so they are the best barometer for understanding the threat to ecosystems downstream from mountaintop removal mining operations, says Lemly, who advocates a ban on the process. His research found toxic levels of selenium in 73 of 78 stream samples.
Lemly was part of a team of 12 ecologists and engineers who provided the first comprehensive analysis of damage done by mountaintop removal mining. In Washington, he and his colleagues will also share their research with representatives of the EPA and the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.
High levels of selenium threaten fish survival; contaminated fish that do survive and reproduce have offspring with serious birth defects, such as crooked spines and deformed heads. They cannot survive and reproduction will fail, Lemly says. He warns the fish population could be wiped out – and that’s not all.
“I specialize in fish, but that is only one part of the overall picture,” Lemly says, “Public health is also an issue with mountaintop removal mining.”
The threat is expanding as this destructive process expands, Lemly says – and mountaintop removal mining has doubled in the past eight years. Once an ecosystem is polluted, the environmental damage is permanent.
— Suzanne Bopp