This is the third in a series exploring common permit violations at mountaintop removal mining operations. See also posts on ground and water related violations. This one considers all things air related - from particulate pollution to blasting violations.
Air related violations tend to be difficult to enforce from a community advocacy perspective. Like water related violations, airborne contamination is prone to dissipating and drifting away, and illegal blasts are fleeting events. Air related violations generally fall into one of a few categories: peak particle velocity, air blast, or administrative infractions. DEP officials don’t consider photo or video documentation as evidence in the case of illegal blasting. Rather, when a blasting complaint is made, the DEP relies on company blasting logs and area seismographs to establish if a violation has occurred.
Limited community monitoring strategies and compromised regulatory mechanisms are made all the more concerning when we consider that air related violations have serious health impacts attached. Blasting releases fine and superfine silica dust into the air, which has been concretely linked to higher incidence of lung cancer and a slew of other health risks.
Despite barriers for citizen enforcement and accountability, federal environmental policy - in conjunction with state code - is explicit about blasting and air quality violations, and they are worth attending to (and reporting). Even though photo and video documentation isn’t taken as evidence, it can be used to get the DEP out to inspect.
Relevant Policy + Regulations
State: Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act (Title 199: Surface Mining Blasting Rule)
Federal: Clean Air Act of 1970 SMCRA - Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (1977)
Many blasting violations are administrative - if you see a blast + document it, this can lead to an inspection. While the company might not be held accountable for spewing silica dust, they might get caught on an administrative infraction.
SMCRA has this to say about blasting:
30 U.S.C. 1265 Section 515 - [Coal operations must] (15) insure that explosives are used only in accordance with existing State and Federal law and the regulations promulgated by the regulatory authority, which shall include provisions to -- (A) provide adequate advance written notice to local governments and residents who might be affected by the use of such explosives by publication of the planned blasting schedule in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality and by mailing a copy of the proposed blasting schedule to every resident living within one-half mile of the proposed blasting site and by providing daily notice to resident/occupiers in such areas prior to any blasting; (B) maintain for a period of at least three years and make available for public inspection upon request a log detailing the location of the blasts, the pattern and depth of the drill holes, the amount of explosives used per hole, and the order and length of delay in the blasts; (C) limit the type of explosives and detonating equipment, the size, the timing and frequency of blasts based upon the physical conditions of the site so as to prevent (i) injury to persons, (ii) damage to public and private property outside the permit area, (iii) adverse impacts on any underground mine, and (iv) change in the course, channel, or availability of ground or surface water outside the permit area; (D) require that all blasting operations be conducted by trained and competent persons as certified by the regulatory authority; (E) provide that upon the request of a resident or owner of a man-made dwelling or structure within one-half mile of any portion of the permitted area the applicant or permittee shall conduct a pre-blasting survey of such structures and submit the survey to the regulatory authority and a copy to the resident or owner making the request. The area of the survey shall be decided by the regulatory authority and shall include such provisions as the Secretary shall promulgate.
WV Code points to SMCRA standards, but also has a set of requirements delineated in the Surface Mining Blasting Rule, Title 199 Series 1. This is an extensive appendix, and I won’t include it in its entirety here - but it does include information on blasting plans, public notice, blasting records, blaster certifications, pre-blast survey requirements, etc.
Air Quality and Particulate Pollution:
EPA Method 9 has some potential applicability to the case of air pollution and surface mining. This method deals with visible emissions observations - essentially, qualified observers determine the opacity of emissions.