How to detox coal country – by Kate Morgan ( – December 11, 2023)

To clean up poisoned streams, Appalachian researchers are turning acid mine drainage into something unexpected.

The most striking thing about the water tumbling out of the ground behind a small cluster of houses in southeastern Ohio isn’t the smell — a sharp, unmistakable sulfur. It’s also not the color, a vibrant red-orange. The weirdest thing about the Truetown Discharge is the silence.

Just before dark on a warm autumn night, there should be a cacophony of crickets and cicadas in the tall grass along the water. Frogs should be singing and splashing into the shallows. Bats should be circling, owls calling, small mammals and salamanders skittering in the leaves.

Instead, there’s only the sound of the water, forcing its way up and out of a 23-square-mile warren of coal mine tunnels. In rural Millfield, 35 miles or so from the West Virginia border, the Truetown Discharge has been bubbling out of the mine once known as AS-193 for nearly 40 years. Since 1984, it has dumped billions of gallons of water loaded with sulfuric acid and iron oxide — otherwise known as acid mine drainage — into Sunday Creek.

In 1997, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency report found that 13 miles of the waterway were, essentially, dead: “irretrievably damaged to the extent that no appreciable aquatic life can be supported.” With nearly 1,000 gallons released every minute, this is the largest and most extreme acid mine drainage site in the state.

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