For years, residents of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley have endured the explosions at nearby mountaintop mining sites and the resulting dust that soils their windows, porches and gardens. And tap water, they say, can run black with coal residue.
Worried about the health impact, some residents of the central Appalachian communities contacted Michael Hendryx, director of a rural health research center at West Virginia University.
With Hendryx’s help, they came to a devastating conclusion: The federally sanctioned, but environmentally controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining — which uses explosives to blow off the top of a mountain to expose deposits of coal — might be causing tens of thousands of cases of cancer in their communities.
The study led by Hendryx, published in the Journal of Community Health, estimated that among the 1.2 million American citizens living near mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia, there could be an additional 60,000 or more cases of cancer related to the mining practice.
As The Charleston Gazette reports, the study was based on a door-to-door surveys of 773 people conducted in mountaintop mining and non-mining counties of West Virginia. It found a cancer rate of 14.4 percent in the mountaintop mining areas versus a rate of 9.4 percent where there was no mining.
“This significantly higher risk was found after control for age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure and family cancer history,” said Hendryx, The Huffington Post reports. “The study adds to the growing evidence that mountaintop mining environments are harmful to human health.”
According to the Gazette, mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia provides between 5 percent and 8 percent of national coal production.