Yet another study links mountaintop removal mining to adverse health effects

The Journal of Rural Health has released yet another study showing mountaintop removal mining is linked to serious health problems, such as increased risk of asthma, heart disease, multiple organ disease, and cancer.

Here’s the full damage from the KFTC/Kentucky Environmental Foundation press release that 90 percent of Kentucky’s General Assembly will ignore, because coal is flawless and omnipotent:

(Eastern KY) A new study, focused on counties in eastern Kentucky, published in the online version of the Journal of Rural Health reveals that people living in communities where mountaintop mining occurs experience higher levels of illness compared to non-mining areas close by.

Researcher Michael Hendryx, chair of the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership in the School of Public Health and director, West Virginia Rural Health Research Center of West Virginia University, said, “When this study is combined with all of the other human health and environmental studies on mountaintop removal the weight of the evidence clearly indicates that MTR is harmful to human health.”

Mountaintop removal is a practice in which earth and trees are stripped from mountaintops to allow access to coal seams; soil, rocks and other rubble are dumped into valley rivers and streams. The process involves use of high explosives and heavy machinery; generates fine dust and soot; and releases heavy metals into the air and waterways.

“Any one who has lived near a strip mine site, or just driven along one of the major coal haul roads like Highway 23, knows dust is a persistent problem, and we know this same dust causes silicosis in mine workers, both surface and underground,” said Floyd County resident Bev May, a nurse practitioner in eastern Kentucky for 18 years. “The excess chronic lung disease this study found in Floyd County supports my own observations that dust from surface mining is not just an annoyance, but a risk to our health.”

The health study data was acquired through a community participatory health survey of residents in Floyd County, Kentucky where mountaintop mining is taking place, and in nearby Elliott and Rowan counties where coal mining is not taking place.

Data shows significant poor health disparities in the mining communities, indicated by higher reported incidences of asthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; illnesses involving multiple organs; and general illness. Mining community residents also reported more serious illness and cancer deaths in family members, than residents in the non-MTR communities.

Rick Handshoe, also a Floyd county resident, has noticed fish dying in streams in the MTR area. “My stream has been dead for several years as a result of pollution flowing from a discharge pipe that carries water off of a mine site. Nothing can live in this stream. A neighbor recently used the creek water to fill his stocked fishing pond. His statement was that ‘it boiled the fish alive.’ Other neighbors who watered their sweet potatoes with creek water noticed that the plants wilted immediately. We have to wonder what harm the pollution is doing to our health. The more I’m dealing with this water the scarier it gets.”

On a press conference Monday, May also pointed to two studies done at the University of Kentucky that reinforce the greater incidence of lung disease in Floyd and surrounding counties, and exposure to higher levels to trace minerals such as arsenic, chromium 6 and nickel on toenails compared to non-mining areas.

Other health experts in and outside the region see these results as significant and worthy of increased action from health agencies. Ted Schettler, MD, Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network said, “Medical and public health professionals have more than enough data to act to prevent additional harm. It should come as no surprise that this destructive activity also destroys the health of families and communities living nearby.”

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth is sponsoring HR 526, which would place a moratorium on new mountaintop removal coal mining permits until a health impact study is conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The last polling done on mountaintop removal in Kentucky (as well as Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia) in 2011 showed more opposition for it than support.

Not that health effects or public opinion matter to the leadership of both political parties in Kentucky. Money talks, and the unquestioned public relations campaign of the coal industry continues to walk over any public official or potential candidate that mentions any of these unwelcome figures…

8 Comments

  1. Curtis Morrison
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Go Congressman Yarmuth!

  2. Julie Bucknam
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s odd that people think that folks, like Ashley Judd, who are against Mountaintop coal removal are “against” coal miners. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This study, like others, suggest we have every reason to be against this horrible practice. It’s bad for us. It’s bad for Kentucky. It’s that simple. We’ve GOT to get people like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul voted out. Come one Kentucky. Let’s go to the polls in mass!

  3. Christopher
    Posted April 6, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Mountaintop removal is AGAINST coal miners. Seriously, it doesnt take but a handful of workers to do the job. Look up how many jobs are LOST to mountaintop removal….hundreds of thouands. I cant believe that people would be stupid enough to think that being against this kind of destruction is against “coal miners”. Thats what I call uneducated idiots.

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