The big news here in West Virginia is out of Mingo County, where two local officials — including Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury have been indicted (see here and here). We’ve talked about Thornsbury before on Coal Tattoo here, here and here. And we’ve also got another story on the Gazette website with more details on an interesting coal-bank-workers comp scheme that’s prompted multiple federal criminal charges.
Three elements commonly found at elevated levels in an Appalachian river polluted by runoff from mountaintop coal mining have distinctive chemistries that can be traced back to their source, according to a Duke University-led study.
The distinctive chemistries of sulfur, carbon and strontium provide scientists with new, more accurate ways to track pollution from mountaintop mining sites and to distinguish it from contamination from other sources.
“Essentially, we found that these elements have unique isotopic fingerprints, meaning we can use them as diagnostic tools to quantify mountaintop mining’s relative contribution to contamination in a watershed,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
The newly identified tracers will be especially useful in watersheds with more than one source of potential contamination, he said. “Because they allow us to distinguish if contaminants are coming from natural sources, fracking and shale gas development, coal mining, coal ash disposal, or other causes.”