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Reserves & Forecasts EIA Watch Water Quality

Frequently Asked Questions:

How many total violations did Appalachian Voices find in the coal mining areas of West Virginia? We found 9,612 violations of the EPA national recommended water quality criteria for chronic and acute toxicity of freshwater.

Was this data collected by environmentalists? The data was collected by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. We will leave it up to you as to whether you think they are environmentalists.

Doesn’t that seem like a lot of violations? The entire data set contained 93,259 tests made over a 12.75 year period from just 12 out of 55 counties in West Virginia. So basically, 22% of water samples taken in the coal mining areas of West Virginia violated federal water quality standards.

What pollutants should I be most concerned about? The EPA has created a list of more toxic pollutants called “priority pollutants.” They include Antimony, Arsenic, Berryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Methyl Mercury, Nickel, Selenium, Silver, Thallium, Zinc and other pollutants. Because they can be dangerous to human and environmental health we included a preset search for “All EPA priority pollutants” as well as a yellow dialogue box that allows you to chose a pollutant and view a ToxFAQ web page provided by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Can all these serious water quality violations be attributed to coal mining? The reason we included both mine sites and water quality violations on one map is to allow you to draw your own conclusions. At the risk of stating the obvious and telling you something you already know, mountaintop removal sites are on top of mountains and water runs down hill. Additionally, this region of West Virginia is very rural and largely undeveloped. Unlike the much more highly populated and industrialized communities along the east and west coasts of the United States, this part of West Virginia has very few other sources of pollution such as large waste water treatment plants or industrial discharges. The dominant business with the most pervasive impact on the environment in this part of West Virginia is the coal industry. We encourage you to fully explore the proximity of water quality violations to individual MTR sites.

Oh my gosh, I clicked on a pin and it exploded and spawned more pins, what happened? Multiple measurements were taken at some locations over several years, so pins expand to show each measurement. For more information about a specific measure, click each of the spawned pins.

Some pins on the map are red, others are green, why is that? Red pins indicate a violation of national water quality criteria, green pins indicate that water quality was within safe limits.

What are all those hammer and pickaxe symbols? The red ones are mountaintop removal sites and the black ones are subsurface mines. Zoom in on a red one and take a close look to see what a decapitated mountain looks like.

What are some cool things I can do with this map? You can zoom in and find out whether there are water quality violations near your community or your favorite fishing spot. Or you can pan all around the map and determine which area has the most water quality violations.

I am a water quality geek and I would like to review the raw data myself and do my own analysis, how can I get it? Great! All good science is repeatable and we want people to have open and transparent access to the data. You can download it by clicking the Water Quality Data (CSV-ZIP)   link.

Just what exactly constitutes a violation? And what are those equations doing in that chart? As required by the Clean Water Act, the EPA has established recommended ambient water quality criteria for the protection of aquatic life and human health. A violation occurs when a water test finds pollutant levels higher than the levels recommended by the EPA and adopted by the states. The EPA has two lists, one for priority pollutants (link to ) and another for non-priority pollutants (link to ). Any test result that exceeded the limits listed below were a violation.

Some of the pollutants (cadmium, lead, silver and zinc) have a “hardness based limit”, meaning that the limit is an equation based on the hardness of the water. Not all of the samples had hardness measurements taken with them, so for those a hardness of 100 mg/L was assumed, and that is where the value below the equation comes from. There were both lab hardness and field hardness measurements for some values, so for those the lab hardness value was used to determine the limit.


Limit Used


Limit Type




Chronic Freshwater

Aluminum (Total)



Chronic Freshwater

Cadmium (Dissolved)


Or 0.00025 (if there is no hardness value)


Chronic Freshwater

Iron (Total)



Chronic Freshwater

Lead (Dissolved)


Or 0.0025 (if there is no hardness value)


Chronic Freshwater

Mercury (Total)



Chronic Freshwater (Note: Limit converted from dissolved to total)




Chronic Freshwater

Selenium (Total)



Chronic Freshwater

Silver (Dissolved)


Or 0.0032 (if there is no hardness value)


Acute Freshwater

Zinc (Dissolved)


Or 0.12 (if there is no hardness value)


Chronic Freshwater

Wait a second, there aren’t any national recommended water quality criteria for total mercury (neither acute nor chronic) and yet your database says there are mercury violations, did you make a mistake? No, we actually used the EPA standard methodology and converted the limit for dissolved mercury to total mercury using the accepted conversion factor.

I noticed you used the chronic national water quality criteria for freshwater for all the pollutants except silver, what did you use for silver? We used the acute freshwater criteria for silver which is sort of scary since a value above the acute level can kill freshwater organisms very quickly. Levels above the chronic criteria, means aquatic organisms are killed or poisoned slowly over time.

This is a cool tool, I want to learn more and talk to the people who created it, who should I contact? For questions about the water quality data and violations, contact the Appalachian Voices Riverkeeper Team-Eric Chance or Donna Lisenby.

For questions about the mechanics of the database and programming of the map, contact the Appalachian Voices IT Team-Jeff Deal or Benji Burrell.

You can reach us at 828-262-1500.

Can I link to this website on my home page or post information about it to my blog? We would be thrilled to see this information shared with as many people possible, so please help us get the word out.

This concerns me greatly, what can I do? Please support our work by becoming a member of Appalachian Voices ( ) and make the pledge to end mountaintop removal ( ).