The city of Birmingham was built seemingly overnight on the iron and steel industry. It was a boom town for employment. Part of the reason for this rapid growth early on was the presence of iron ore, coal, and limestone all within close proximity. These are essential in the making of steel. Birmingham was called the “The Pittsburgh of the South.”
Steel production is no longer the prominent industry in Birmingham but steel is still made. Three of the major steel producers have strong presences in Birmingham and there are talks of major expansion in the next several years of their facilities. One of the reasons behind these plans is the reinvestment of the Rosa Coal Mine Project by MCoal Corp. based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
There has been increased interest again in coal as an alternate energy source since the invasion of Iraq seven years ago. And so companies like MCoal have been looking at coal deposits that have not been fully tapped such as the coal that is in the Rosa Mine. This particular coal field had been stripped mined in the late 1960’s and 1970’s but the main coal fields have not been. Resulting in a coal field that is ideally suited according to MCoal for augur type mining. They believe Rosa Coal Mine will be able to produce 1 million tons of coal per year within the next 5 to 7 years for a total of 5 million tons of coal to be recovered.
This all sounds wonderful at a time when Alabama, along with the rest of country, is facing its most critical economic crisis in over 80 years. The project is expected to provide about 25 local jobs for the next 3-5 years. However there is a damper on all this expansion talk. What is the impact of augur mining on the people who live in and around Rosa Coal Mine, including the city of Birmingham?
The mine is located within 100 feet of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, a primary source of water for the city of Birmingham. Augur mining results in toxic water sludge that will be dumped into the river and enter into the aquifers underground.
A study done by West Virginia University on the effects of coal mining on the health of the community found there was a 70 percent increase in kidney disease, a 64 percent increase for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema, and a 30 percent increase in hypertension. The study compensated for the likelihood of increased chronic illnesses because of lack of health care and increased tobacco smoking in these communities. The study noted that COPD increased by 1 percent for every 1,462 tons of coal mined. The study concludes “The human cost of the Appalachian coal economy outweighs its economic benefit.”
At what price do we state the monetary gains are worth the loss of human life? What is an acceptable loss? A three percent increase in COPD and kidney disease? A ten percent increase? A 70 percent increase? If my math is correct and I won’t vouch that it is … but with the statistics given above, 1 million tons of coal divided by 1,462 tons would yield a 683 percent increase in COPD and that is just over the course of one year’s projection. Of course such mathematics can’t possibly be accurate to reality but even if these statistics were only 10 percent right, this is still an increase of 68 percent. Is 5 million tons of coal worth the risk of increasing COPD in a given population–for the creation of only 25 local jobs?
We already have a broken health care system in this nation. Costs are out of reach for most people and that is for people who have health insurance. Insurance companies know these statistics and base their costs on regional projections. Guaranteed health insurance costs will rise in the northwest corner of Alabama because of this renewed mining effort.
This connection seems to be lost on MCoal. Or perhaps they were aware of it since the permit announcements that require public hearings did not get public notice in the press until it was time for the hearings to take place. The first permit was filed May 5 2009 with the newspapers picking up the story on July 1. The public comment period ends on August 1 2009. There is a petition that can be signed today located at this site.
There has got to be a better way than destroying human life to make a buck.