National Geographic : 1980 Nov
Environmental activist Ron Babik: "Atour Cambria coal mines, we treat 7 billion gallons of acid mine water a year. "Thanksto a unique Bethlehem process, we're not left with an ocean of muck:' "Treating all of that water so it meets Federal and state guide lines is no small accomplish ment," says Ron Babik. "And neither is disposing of the slurry generated during the process. The "slurry"problem "Mine water in this part of the country is acidic because it picks up sulfur and iron as it percolates down through the ground and the coal seams. In order to mine the coal, the water must be pumped out and then treated before it can be discharged into a nearby stream. "In most mine water treat ment methods, lime is added to the water to neutralize the acid and help precipitate out the dissolved metals as solids. "But most of those methods generate a slurry that's 99% water and only 1% solids. The slurry has to be pumped to large man-made ponds. But these ponds quickly fill up. Then another one has to be started. That wastes land. And when your land runs out, you're up against a serious solid waste disposal problem. New coal mine waste water process developed by Bethlehem "Bethlehem's research scientists developed a process that produces a higher-density slurry-a sludge - in which the solids can be concentrated up to 40 times more than with the conventional lime-treatment method. This reduces the volume of the waste material, saves land and cuts costs. As a matter of fact, at Cambria we're able to dispose of most of the sludge by pumping it back into sections of our mines that have been worked out." Pollution solutions don't come easy-or cheap A major problem we face is that we usually can't buy pollution control facilities and equipment off the shelf. They've got to be researched, developed, designed, fabricated, installed, and de-bugged on a case-by-case basis-as was the high-density waste water process we've described here. And, of course, money is another problem. Bethlehem has already spent more than $700 million for pollution control equipment at our various operations. And we're committed to continue with programs that will control approximately 95 percent of our pollutant emissions and discharges. These programs should achieve primary air and water standards, the level of control established for a healthy environment. From here on: Let's make sure the benefits are worth the costs Bethlehem intends to keep on with the clean-up. But before new and tighter regula tions are proposed, we believe Federal and state environmental authorities should be required to show that the benefits of those regulations will clearly be worth the costs. Our position is clearly explained in our booklet, Steel making and the Environment, which includes our Statement on Environmental Quality Control. If you'd like a copy, write: Public Affairs Dept., 476 Martin Tower, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Bethlehem, PA 18016. Bethlehem £ Ron Babik supervises the water treatmentplants that service the mines at Bethlehem's CambriaCoal Mining Division nearJohnstown, Pa. Ron is one of about a thousand Bethlehem Steel employees whose activities involve Bethlehem's environmentalcon trol program.