Degradation Of Appalachian Mountains Essay

2200 words - 9 pages

The 205-thousand-square-mile Appalachian Mountain range, which spans from Eastern Canada to northern Alabama, boasts North America’s oldest mountains (formed approximately 400 million years ago), the highest peak of the eastern United States (Mount Mitchell), industrial production opportunities and leisurely recreation. The range includes the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky mountains (NCSU, n.d.). A range of recreational activities such as fishing in freshwater streams, camping, biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, skiing and hiking are available in the region. One popular hiking location is the 2,184-mile Appalachian Natural Scenic Trail, which is the longest walking trail in the eastern United States (United States. National Park Service, 2014). Its rich natural capital offers a plethora of resources, allowing production to range from small-scale agricultural establishments to larger industrial outputs of metal and timber. Approximately 80 percent of land has been used for the coal and logging industry since the 90’s (Little, 1995). Though the commercial utilization of the mountains has boosted the economy of Appalachian towns and cities, it has also degraded the range aesthetically and commercially.
One major business of the Appalachian mountain range is the coal mining industry; the range is the second-highest supplier of coal in America (Wuerthner, 2008). A common method of coal-extraction, mountaintop removal, results in mountain peaks becoming plateaus. The use of 300 million pounds of an explosive, ammonium nitrate rich fuel allows miners to remove hundreds of feet off mountain peaks each day, making the underlying coal more accessible and thus the extraction more efficient (Reece, 2006 & Shnayerson, 2008). The process is also less expensive than the traditional underground extraction, or contour strip mining (Shnayerson, 2008). This practice harms many aspects of the Appalachian environment, such as streams. The “overburden” removed by miners falls into valley streams, which is allowed at 6,700 sites by legislation passed in 1985-2001 (Reece, 2006). This results in contaminated stream water, which is used as drinking and bathing water for the citizens, causing many reported sicknesses. One of these is “blue-baby” syndrome, methemoglobinemia, which harms internal digestive organs and bones (Benton Franklin Health District, 2002). This is seen in infants and is caused by drinking water which contains more than 10 parts per million of nitrogen, a key ingredient of the fuel used in mountaintop removal mining (Reece, 2006 & Benton Franklin Health District, 2002). ¬The sickness is called blue-baby syndrome because it decreases the blood vessels’ ability to carry oxygen (Desoine, 2008). The process of mountaintop removal can also cause asthmatic diseases, because the coal particles can easily escape the waste storage dams and irritate the respiratory system (Reece, 2006). Massey Energy, which has headquarters in Richmond, VA, is a...

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