CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal operators can and should take more aggressive steps to reduce dust emissions from blasting and heavy equipment at mountaintop removal mines, according to new studies released this week as part of a controversial industry-funded research project.
More thorough mine planning and careful mining practices could reduce dust emissions and help companies control drainage, improve reclamation, and eventually curb water pollution, according to the studies, authored by engineers at West Virginia University and the University of Kentucky.
"Everything that goes outside of the mine site, you could solve that," said Vladislav Kecojevic, a WVU mining engineer. "You can get it at a cheap price, but the benefits of it would be tremendous."
Other scientists, including experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, have been examining dust from strip-mine blasting as one potential link between mountaintop removal and high rates of illnesses found in coal-mining communities in the Appalachian coalfields.
Kecojevic said that mining operations in Australia are using large water sprays to control dust emissions. He said he's seen similar techniques in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, but not in surface mines east of the Mississippi River.
"That dust will not go anywhere," Kecojevic said, showing a photograph of water sprays beating down dust from a shovel at an Australian mine. "If they're able to solve the problem, we can do it here in West Virginia as well."
Kecojevic was among the scientists who presented papers in the final day of a symposium sponsored by the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science, or ARIES, an industry-funded project to research coal's environmental, economic and public health impacts in the region.
Officials from Alpha Natural Resources and other coal companies joined with Virginia Tech to form ARIES, a five-year, $15 million effort to fund research at a variety of universities. Industry officials say they got involved to respond to studies that linked mountaintop removal to water quality damage and public health concerns, and to combat the Obama administration's crackdown on mining.