Federal review to look at mining’s health damages

After more than a decade of studies pointing to significant health impacts for Appalachian residents living near mountaintop removal operations, the federal government has decided to take a look.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced that it will fund a $1 million review by the National Academy of Sciences of current research on the links between surface coal mining and human health risks. The review will be conducted over a two-year period.

More than 20 studies over the last decade have found correlations between mountaintop removal coal mining and increased rates of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, nervous system damage in children and other negative health outcomes.

Some of the more recent of those studies have documented direct, causal links between mountaintop removal and negative health impacts, such as tumor growth in human lung cells after exposure to mining dust.

A study earlier this year titled “Lung and Bronchus Cancer Deaths in Boone County, WV, Before and After Mountaintop Removal Mining” found that:

Lung and bronchus cancer [LBC] death rates have increased significantly since the introduction of MTR in Boone County (all genders, ages, corrected for age). All site cancer death rates have likewise increased significantly over time. There were significantly more deaths from LBC in MTR counties than in non-MTR counties of WV.”

(Most of the studies of the past decade have been conducted in West Virginia, including many by researchers at West Virginia University. Kentucky universities and officials have ignored this crisis, for the most part.)

The review will include four public meetings to be held by the National Academy of Sciences. Dates and locations have not yet been announced.

Some members of Congress have not waited for federal agencies to review what’s already well documented. U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Louise Slaughter of New York have introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation, H.R. 912, would require a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal mining permits while federal officials examine health consequences to surrounding communities.

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