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Researcher: Many Studies Show Mountaintop Removal Damages Health

August 1, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The author of two recent studies showing higher rates of cancer and birth defects in the areas around mountaintop removal mines says those results are part of a consistent pattern. West Virginia University professor of community medicine Michael Hendryx says that, over the years, he's had 19 studies reviewed and published. He says they consistently show that living near a coal mine, especially a mountaintop removal mine, is bad for your health.

"We see it for cancer, we see it for heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, children's health outcomes. That is not due to other risk factors."

One door-to-door survey found twice the rate of cancer in a part of the state near the strip mines compared to an area with no mining. Another survey of death rates in Appalachian states found 11,000 additional deaths per year in mining areas.

Hendryx says yet another study found higher rates of birth defects.

"These higher birth defect rates were especially pronounced for cardio-vascular and respiratory defects: 181 percent higher in mountaintop mining areas."

Some critics have said Hendryx has not accounted for other factors, such as the number of Appalachians who smoke. He says he has accounted for tobacco use, and a dozen other external issues.

"We've measured obesity rates, we've measured poverty, we've measured education and age and race and health insurance and access to doctors and drinking during pregnancy. We've measured all of these."

He says he does not know exactly how the mining is causing the health effects, but he suspects it's exposing people to a whole family of pollutants.

"I do think that there is an environmental contribution to what we're seeing, in the air and the water based on where people live. But we don't know exactly what it is."

The mining industry has attacked the methods Hendryx has used in his studies, but he says similar results show up even when using many different kinds of medical research.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV