Among the 1.2 million American citizens living in mountaintop removal mining counties in central Appalachia, an additional 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to the federally sanctioned strip-mining practice.
That is the damning conclusion in a breakthrough study, released last night in the peer-reviewed Journal of Community Health: The Publication for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Led by West Virginia University researcher Dr. Michael Hendryx, among others, the study entitled “Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining” drew from a groundbreaking community-based participatory research survey conducted in Boone County, West Virginia in the spring of 2011, which gathered person-level health data from communities directly impacted by mountaintop mining, and compared to communities without mining.
“A door to door survey of 769 adults found that the cancer rate was twice as high in a community exposed to mountaintop removal mining compared to a non-mining control community,” said Hendryx, Associate Professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Director of West Virginia Rural Health Research Center at West Virginia University. “This significantly higher risk was found after control for age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure and family cancer history. The study adds to the growing evidence that mountaintop mining environments are harmful to human health.”
Bottom line: Far from simply being an environmental issue, mountaintop removal is killing American residents.
“This research in the Coal River Valley, along with the recent birth defects research in Appalachia and other peer reviewed science, is providing evidence of the long term effects of human exposure to mountaintop removal,” said Coal River Valley resident and coalfield leader Bo Webb, who participated in the study. “Again, I urgently call upon the United States government to intervene and address this health crisis, place an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal and stop this needless killing of our citizens.”
As a tree-sit protest in the Coal River Valley enters a new week to stop the strip mining operations at a former Massey Energy and current Alpha Natural Resources site, the New York Times is reporting today that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key supporter of absentee coal companies and lobbies, reported “operating income of $1,363,916″ from a coal brokerage firm.
Last month, delivering a new study on the link between birth defects and mountaintop removal mining, Appalachian leaders went to Washington, DC to call on President Obama, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Department of Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to enact an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia until the Center for Disease Control and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining.
According to the new study: “The odds for reporting cancer were twice as high in the mountaintop mining environment compared to the non mining environment in ways not explained by age, sex,smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history.” The study found:
Surface water and ground water around MTM activity are characterized by elevated sulfates, iron, manganese, arsenic, selenium, hydrogen sulﬁde, lead, magnesium, calcium and aluminum; contaminates severely damage local aquatic stream life and can persist for decades after mining at a particular site ceases [18, 20]. In addition, elevated levels of airborne particulate matter around surface mining operations include ammonium nitrate, silica, sulfur compounds, metals, benzene, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and nitrogen dioxide [21, 22].
Citing extremely high levels of uterine and ovarian, skin, urinary, bone, brain, and others forms of cancers, the study additionally noted:
Arsenic, for example, is an impurity present in coal that is implicated in many forms of cancer including that of skin, bladder and kidney [31, 36]. Cadmium is linked to renal cancer . Diesel engines are widely used at mining sites, and diesel fuel is used for surface mining explosives, coal transportation and coal processing; diesel exhaust has been identiﬁed as a major environmental contributor to cancer risk.
Despite the deadly consequences, mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachian only provides 5-8 percent of national coal production.