Coal is a potential source of naphthenic acids in groundwater.

The Science of the total environment

PubMedID: 19185332

Scott AC, Whittal RM, Fedorak PM. Coal is a potential source of naphthenic acids in groundwater. Sci Total Environ. 2009;407(7):2451-9.
Naphthenic acids, with the general formula C(n)H(2n+Z)O(2), are found in conventional petroleums and oil sands ores. These acids are toxic to aquatic life, so their discharge from petroleum processing into receiving waters must be avoided. In a previous study, naphthenic acids were putatively identified in groundwaters from two domestic wells that were distant from petroleum sources. However, coal deposits were near these wells. In this study, waters from the two wells were extracted and analyzed by electrospray ionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry to unequivocally confirm the presence of naphthenic acids and other organic acids. In addition, distilled water was percolated through three crushed coal samples and the leachates were shown to contain a variety of organic acids, including naphthenic acids. These results clearly demonstrate that coal is a source of naphthenic acids and that the naphthenic acids can leach into groundwaters. Thus, the presence of naphthenic acids in waters cannot be solely attributed to petroleum or petroleum industry activities.