The Appalachian region of the United States, made up of over 400 counties across 13 states spanning from southern New York to northern Mississippi, is noted for its beauty; it draws people from all around the country to hike along the Appalachian Trail and venture into the mountains.
However, the enshrinement of these attractions often overshadows some much less palatable realities of Appalachia, such as the region’s overall poverty rate of 15.2% and widespread pollution due to the area’s historic dependence on surface and underground coal mining and the use of Appalachia as a dumping site for toxic chemicals.
The degradation of the environment from rampant mining and dumping practices in the Appalachian region has proven to damage vital aspects of its ecosystems and in doing so greatly reduces the quality of life of those subjected to this pollution. Athens is no exception.
In July of 2021, A 2 Z Sanitation, specializing in the cleaning of septic tanks, grease traps, and portable toilets, received authorization from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) to dump a regulated amount of waste into a field near Raccoon Creek. However, A 2 Z Sanitation did not comply with restrictions, dumping 100,000 gallons of sewage and grease into a field, which would go on to seep into the creek following heavy rainfall, resulting in immense bacteria growth within Raccoon Creek.
Although the company made some remediation efforts, they only managed to collect 25,000 of the 100,000 gallons of waste that seeped into the creek.
Prior to this incident, Raccoon Creek had actually been so polluted by acid mine drainage that it turned a rust color. It took local nonprofit Raccoon Creek Partnership $15 million spread between 20 separate projects to get the creek back to the standards for supporting aquatic biodiversity.
Acid mine drainage is a widespread problem throughout the Appalachian region given its dependence on mining throughout the 1800s and 1900s, during which few regulations for mining existed. Not only did this result in widespread water pollution, but also in coal deposits and the nutrient and vegetation-stripped land left after the fact.
Virtually the entire reason environmental issues become issues is because of how it directly affects the welfare of the people. When a mountaintop is cut off to mine in, dust and debris pollute water sources in an area where access to clean water is already scarce; such has occurred in parts of Appalachia. The degradation of soil from mining results in less plentiful crops, diminishing the livelihoods of the countless farmers in the Appalachian region and decreasing accessibility to nutritious food in already economically isolated areas.
When private corporations abuse the planet and government agencies neglect to hold them accountable, they are also neglecting the people they are supposed to protect.
Meg Diehl is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Meg by tweeting her at @irlbug.
Assistant Opinion Editor