TOXIC MINE RESTORATION IN ALABAMA
The State of Alabama has revitalized the site of an abandoned coal mine, increasing ecological stability, protecting the Cahaba River from pollution, and creating a draw for tourists.
The Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, south of Birmingham, Alabama, was established in 2002. When the state acquired the land they also received a significant coal mining pollution problem. Steven Trull, head of the Wildlife Refuge, has overseen a remarkable transformation of the area. “Being able to clean it up and stop the chemicals from going into the Cahaba River is a wonderful thing on so many levels,” Trull says.
Many rivers in Alabama have been subject to damming and dumping over the years. The Cahaba River measures roughly 190 miles from its springs to where it joins the Alabama River. The Cahaba has the longest stretch of uninhibited flow in the whole state and represents greater species diversity than any comparable stream in North America: it is home to 300 types of mussels, roughly 10 percent of North America’s gill-breathing freshwater snail species, and especially a rare flower known as the white Cahaba lily (Hymenocallis coronaria).
These lilies are a major attraction for tourists, who travel from places as far as New York and Canada every year to see them. The flowers require special conditions to grow, including swift waters, rocky shoals, and a lot of sunlight. They bloom for 6-8 weeks leading up to mid June, but each individual blossom opens overnight and lives only one day. The 18th century naturalist William Bartram wrote that “nothing in vegetable nature was more pleasing” than the Cahaba lily.
As of 2022, the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge covers 5,000 acres. The refuge’s recent growth was made possible by $3.2 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which parlays revenue from offshore gas and oil into conservation and recreation projects. The refuge has also secured $5 million in mine-restoration funds, with another $735,000 dedicated to wildfire control and native plant restoration.
Trull, a former miner himself, says, “[The refuge has] hunting access, new trails, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, wildlife observation — all sorts of recreation opportunities for the community.” And that’s on top of the illustrious Cahaba Lily Festival that celebrates the rare flower and the work that has helped maintain its special habitat.
Alabama’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program began in 1977 and is going strong today.
Sources: Good News Network, Federal Register
FARMS USING VOLCANIC DUST
Agriculture technology startup company Lithos Carbon is using volcanic rock dust on farms to add essential nutrients to soil and remove atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) permanently.
Basalt rock is a natural byproduct of volcanic activity. In fact, basalt is the most common volcanic rock on earth, and the global mining industry deals with millions of tons of basalt every year, so supply is consistently high. Lithos Carbon uses a mutually beneficial business model to supply basalt rock dust to farms as an excellent fertilizer and carbon capture tool.
With a basalt dust application, the farms are enriched with iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium, which can boost crop yields by up to 47 percent compared to traditional limestone dust. CO2 is captured through a completely natural part of the global carbon cycle. When rain carries atmospheric CO2 onto the ground, the volcanic rock dust reacts and absorbs it as dissolved bicarbonate, releasing nutrients into the soil, which Lithos measures over time. The bicarbonate is then washed away into streams and eventually to the ocean, where it is stable for thousands of years; Lithos tracks and monitors the movements here as well. Once in the ocean, the bicarbonate is easily taken up by mollusks and other sea creatures who use the mineral to make their shells, forming calcium carbonate. After the creatures die, their shells sink to the ocean floor where the carbon, under most circumstances, remains permanently.
Lithos Carbon sells dust applications as carbon credits for industries looking to offset their emissions. They give a portion of proceeds to the farmers, as well as covering the costs of dust delivery and application, soil sampling, and carbon tracking. Mary Yap, CEO of Lithos, says, “My approach to this is, if you can give farmers something that they will want and love and need, then they will do that. And then you will scale carbon capture almost as a side effect. One of my farmers has said, ‘I can’t eat carbon credits.’ Really, the crops at the end of the day are the thing that matters.”
Lithos has partnered with Yale University to develop software for calculating each farm’s needs, getting the right amount of basalt on the land in the right way. As of October 2022, Lithos is managing 14 farms, the most recent of which received over 1,500 tons of dust on 140 acres which will permanently capture 384 tons of CO2.
Sources: Good News Network, lithoscarbon.com