PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — State workers tapped into an underground lake of abandoned mine water, letting loose hundreds of thousands of gallons of acid mine drainage — a largely unknown and usually unseen threat to our rivers and streams.
One day after the big spill, a brownish-yellow slick can still be seen in McKeesport where the Youghiogheny meets the Monongahela River. Environmentalists and others say it’s just one stunning example of what happens with mine drainage every day.
“Abandoned mine drainage is the biggest water quality problem in Pennsylvania by a mile,” Carnegie Mellon University Professor David Dzombak said.
Mine drainage is responsible for doing severe damage to more than 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s streams, rendering them lifeless with a fatal coating of brownish orange sulfuric acid and dissolved iron.
While this slick is an arresting visual example, hundreds of abandoned mines leech the same untreated water on an almost continual basis.
“There are discharges from abandoned mine drainages all over Pennsylvania every day,” Dzombak said.
Environmentalists say the problem with abandoned mines is there’s no one to stick with the tab.
“That company’s long gone, there’s no one to hold accountable for it and it’s a problem that the state would have to come up with the money to go under these facilities and treat each mine,” Ned Mulcahy of Three Rivers Waterkeeper explained.
But under the budget introduced by Governor Tom Corbett, the relatively small funding to treat mine water drainage has been zeroed out, meaning it will likely continue to flow untreated into our waterways.