Mountaintop-removal coal mining causes many streams and rivers in Appalachia to run consistently saltier for up to 80 percent of the year, a new study finds. Scientists examined water quality in four watersheds that flow into southern West Virginia's Mud River basin, the site of extensive mountaintop mining in recent years. In mountaintop-removal mining, underground coal seams are exposed by blasting away summits or ridges above them. Any leftover debris and crushed rocks are deposited in neighboring valleys, creating "valley fills" that can stretch for long distances and bury entire streambeds.
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