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Acid Mine Drainage
Acid mine drainage refers to water with high concentrations of sulfuric acid draining out of surface or subsurface coal mines. The sulfur-laden (acidic?) water originates from rainwater percolating through numerous fractures in crushed sulfur-rich coal left in the mines.

Acid mine drainage is a problem on Wheeling Creek watershed because of its history of coal mining dating back to approximately 1810. Energy from coal was critical to the development of Wheeling's industrial base and the expansion of European settlement west of the Ohio River. Coal mining remains one of West Virginia's most important industries and the basis for energy resources that continue to drive all industry in the Ohio River Valley.

Image showing Headwater stream carrying effluent.  This image links to a more detailed image.Prior to the 1950s, coal mining was conducted with little regard for its environmental impact. Recent developments in environmental regulation, coal mining methodology, and treatment of effluent from mining operations have greatly changed the impact of mining on streams. Today, the greatest problem with acid mine drainage in West Virginia streams stems from abandoned deep mines. Effluent from abandoned mine sites continues to be the leading water quality problem in West Virginia's river and stream ecosystems. Left: Headwater stream carrying effluent from abandoned mine lands. Photo: Courtesy of Kenneth E. Rastall

Mine drainage in streams can be detected using field measures of water chemistry, such as pH, conductivity, hardness, and dissolved oxygen. Acid mine drainage chemistry provides an in-depth discussion of the chemical reactions leading to the formation of acid mine drainage.

 

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