For the past 150 years, shortsighted individuals and their private institutions (Drummond Company and Jim Walter Resources, to name a few) have viewed our stream only in terms of the value of its coal supply. Today most of the coal deposits have effectively been mined out, leaving hundreds of abandoned coalmines. These abandoned mines are responsible for much of the degradation of the creek and its tributaries.
The recent history of Hurricane Creek involves The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Prior to this Act, the mining companies would enter a site, mine the coal, and leave the area in ruins. In Hurricane Creek large amounts of underground sulfur were exposed during the mining process. These sulfur deposits began leaching into tributary creeks and then into Hurricane Creek. Since the last pre law mine in the area was closed, the sulfur in the creeks became sulfuric acid. Acidic water dissolves metals; in this case the primary metals are iron, manganese, aluminum, and pyrite. A lot of leaching has already occurred, but much more could occur. The levels of acidity make this a more extreme case, although typical due to the extensive and long-term coal mining done in the watershed.
We still receive water from underground mines nearby. This water is used in the slurry and preparation process of coal mining. It contains all or most of the impurities as well as the chemicals used to clean the coal. At its final discharge point, it has a pH of 8.5 and carries with it massive amounts of iron and other heavy metals. A permit issued by ADEM allows this discharge.
“Site specific waivers were issued to Drummond Company to discharge into Hurricane Creek water with a pH value of 3 to 4 and Iron up to 30 p/pml. Then at the same site, a permit was issued for a discharge of water with a pH value of 8.5. This causes fallout of all Iron in solution for several miles downstream turning the entire creek red with Iron bacteria” (from EPA Triennial Hearing comments by JLW)