Mountaintop Removal Linked to Cancer

Written by Anastasia Pantsios and reposted with permission from EcoWatch.

We know what a mess mountaintop removal makes when the tops of mountains are literally blown off to access the coal inside them. Forests are stripped and debris is dumped into streams and valleys, leaving behind a ravaged landscape. It’s partly responsible for the loss of jobs in the coal industry since it requires only a handful of workers to operate the huge machines involved. Now we’re learning that the process, which has been touted by advocates as cleaner and safer than below-ground coal mining, is the direct cause of a lung cancer epidemic in the Appalachian communities—primarily in West Virginia, Kentucky and southwestern Virginia—where mountaintop removal coal mining is taking place.

Mountaintop removal coal mine in southern West Virginia encroaching on a small community. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman

Mountaintop removal coal mine in southern West Virginia encroaching on a small community. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman

A new peer-reviewed study by researchers from West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Cancer Center found that the coal-dust particulates it blows into the atmosphere has fueled an epidemic of lung cancer.

“Epidemiological studies suggest that living near mountaintop coal mining activities is one of the contributing factors for high lung cancer incidence,” the study states unequivocally in its introduction.

“This study shows that dust collected from mountaintop-removal communities promotes lung cancer,” the University of Indiana’s Dr. Michael Hendryx, who published earlier studies showing health problems linked to mountaintop removal, told the Ashland, Kentucky Daily Independent. ”Previous studies have shown that people who live in these communities have higher lung cancer rates, not due just to smoking. But with this study we now have solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop-removal sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells.”

As Dr. Hendryx suggests, the study, Appalachian Mountaintop Mining Particulate Matter Induces Neoplastic Transformation of Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells and Promotes Tumor Formation, moved beyond simply the evidence that lung cancer rates (as well as rates for birth defects and Parkinson’s disease) are greatly elevated in mountaintop removal communities (MTR), studying the cancer-causing potential of the specific particulates in the dust created by such mining.

The study provides more ammunition to those fighting the impacts of MTR on their communities. In August, for instance, a federal judge overruled complaints by environmental groups about the issuing of a MTR permit in West Virginia, saying the evidence they presented of human health impacts was not compelling. The study advises implementing programs to limit exposure to the coal dust particulates.

“The coal industry and its allies in Congress have always been eager to dismiss claims that air and water pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining have any link to the high rates of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects, or the decrease in life expectancy that counties with heavy mining have experienced over the past two decades,” Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices posted on the environmental group’s blog. “Will this study get them to finally change their tune? It’s almost certain it won’t. It will be up to those of us who care about the health of Appalachian communities to raise our voices and simply drown them out.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Angela K.
Angela K4 years ago

Thank you

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G4 years ago

sadly noted :(

ERIKA S4 years ago

very sad

Karen K.
Karen K4 years ago

Bad for the environment, people, animals, air, water, everything.

Sharon Stein
Sharon Stein4 years ago

Years ago cancer was "black lung" which did then... and still does take its victims...coal dust...and coal mining is inherently DANGEROUS!
CAN WE NOT BURN ALL THE WORLDS buried FUELS BEFORE WE TRY CLEAN...and NON NUCLEAR... ENERGY...The suns energy in one day would fuel the world thousands of days if we could store it better!
While there are people and a planet worth SAVING!!!

Michael LaGassey Sr.
Michael LaGassey4 years ago

How come none of this stuff surprises me anymore?

Lori Hone
Lori Hone4 years ago

There is nothing good from mining especially like this

Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin4 years ago

Coal mining counties are among the poorest and sickest in the nation. Billions of dollars are being made while the landscape is being raped and the population poisoned.

"Clean Coal" is an oxymoron. It is, from the ground out, a dirty business. It is polluting to mine it, to transport it, to burn it, and to dispose of the remaining ash. It will improve our nation when we end its use.

As Rob't Kennedy asked, If not us, who? If not now, when?

Lisbeth Alvarado Sanchez

This is so sad. Unfortunatelly this big corporations don't care about nature or the health of humans.

Brian Foster
Brian F4 years ago

Destroying mountains is a crime against humanity. These greedy coal companies are destroying all the beautiful Appalachian mountains, and taking the money out of state. It's a shame, people still defend the dirty coal industry, after all the horrible environmental damage it does. Instead of burning dirty coal, and blowing up, and destroying mountains, we should build solar power plants, wind farms, and geothermal power plants that don't emit pollution into our air, poison our water, and permanently scar our beautiful mountains. More people work in the renewable energy industry, than the dirty coal industry, so it would be in our best interest to retire all our dirty coal plants, and replace them with clean solar, wind, and geothermal power.