In a new study released this week, it was revealed that among the 1.2 million residents living in parts of Appalachia, an additional 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to mountaintop removal mining, a practice that occurs most commonly in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. Using groundbreaking community-based participatory research, West Virginia University researcher Dr. Michael Hendryx conducted the study, which is titled “Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining.” This spring, Hendryx and his team used health data collected from residents of Boone County, WV who are directly affected by mountaintop removal mining, and compared the data to communities without mining. The results show that not only is mountaintop removal killing our environment, it’s killing our fellow Americans.

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Through a door-to-door survey of 769 people, Hendryx’s team found that in communities exposed to mountaintop removal mining, the cancer rate was twice as high as in communities without mining. “This significantly higher risk was found after control for age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure and family cancer history,” says Hendryx. There were extremely high levels of uterine and ovarian, skin, urinary, bone, brain, and several others forms of cancers.

The study joins a growing list of research that proves how harmful mountaintop removal mining is to our longterm health. Just last month, a different study was released showing the link between mountaintop removal and birth defects. Appalachian leaders went to Washington to called on government leaders to ask for a moratorium on all mountaintop mining in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia until the Center for Disease Control or other agencies conduct an official assessment of the health and human rights issues caused by mountaintop removal mining.

Jeff Biggers at the Huffington Post pulls out the grimy, disturbing details of mining communities’ water and air reported in Hendryx’s study:

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].

The study goes on to explain exactly what many of these toxins are linked to:

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 [34]. 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.

Biggers also points out that despite the deadly consequences and extreme environmental destruction, mountaintop removal only accounts for 5-8 percent of our country’s coal production. Is such a small amount of massively polluting fossil fuels really worth risking the lives of millions of people?

Via Huffington Post

Lead image by Vivian Stockman via OVEC