Here’s more bad news for the coal industry, courtesy of West Virginia University professor Michael Hendryx: communities near surface mining sites suffer much higher rates of cancer than other parts of the state. The new study links an additional 60,000 cases of cancer to mountaintop removal, showing, once again, that these mining practices aren’t just environmentally dangerous. They are actively harming human health.
“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 the age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history,” wrote Hendryx in the report. ”Efforts to reduce cancer and other health disparities in Appalachia must focus on mountaintop mining portions of the region.”
Many mining officials have tried to dismiss studies like these, and even went so far as to suggest that another one of Hendryx’s findings, which linked higher rates of birth defects to exposure to strip mining, was actually due to inbreeding. But each piece of scientific research adds to the case for ending mountaintop removal, which provides a surprisingly small fraction of coal production nationwide.
Jim Biggers has a great piece for Alternet about the environmental advocates’ efforts to bring findings like these to the attention of federal officials. Last month, these leaders went to Washington to ask key political authorities 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.”
For the West Virginia residents who see their neighbors struck down by illnesses, these studies just confirm what they already know: mountaintop removal is poisonous to the surrounding communities. What we now need to do is make sure that the Obama administration takes notice. You can find more information about ending mountaintop removal here.
Photo from ilovemountains.org via flickr.