Dead end? Coal mining devastates the health of those who live in mining areas, according to a new report.
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A new study out of coal-rich West Virginia found that the fossil fuel isn’t just providing us with electricity, it’s sickening and killing people who live in Appalachia. The study, published in the July-August issue of the journal Public Health Reports, found that the health problems in coal-mining areas of Appalachia far outweigh any economic boost the industry brings to the region.
“If we were serious about developing a strong economy, we’d develop an economy not dependent on coal,” says Michael Hendryx, PhD, associate director of the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research in WVU’s department of community medicine. “Those who are falling ill and dying young are not just the coal miners. Everyone who lives near the mines or processing plants or transportation centers is affected by chronic socioeconomic weakness that takes a toll in longevity and health.”
Summaries of articles showing public health consequences of Appalachian coal mining
(As of September 2012)
Prepared by Michael Hendryx, PhD
Coal mining in Appalachia, especially in mountaintop mining areas of West Virginia and other central Appalachia areas, is associated with a set of serious public health problems, including:
- Higher cancer rates
- Higher heart and lung disease rates
- Higher kidney disease rates
- Higher rates of birth defects
- Higher levels of impaired functioning due to health problems
Data also show that the economic costs of health problems in Appalachian coal mining areas are more than 5 times greater than the economic benefits from mining.
These health problems are partly due to disadvantages in mining areas such as poverty and smoking. However, the pattern of results shows that:
- Health problems are present after statistical adjustment for age, smoking, obesity, poverty, education, availability of doctors, and other risks
- Health problems are most severe in areas where amounts of mining are greatest
- Health problems in mountaintop mining areas are worsening in more recent years versus earlier years
- Health problems are present for men, women and children and reflect more than occupational exposure.
Dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop mining has been analyzed in the lab. The dust contains primarily silica, sulfur, and organic carbon, with small amounts of aluminum, iron, and many other trace elements. Laboratory animals that inhale MTM dust show impaired vascular function.
Most recently, environmental data from mountaintop mining communities show evidence that air and water quality are impaired in mining communities; and that the specific forms of impairment are consistent with mountaintop mining activity (e.g. dust in communities contains high levels of silica that seem to result from overburden removal.) Dust collected from mountaintop mining communities has been shown to be toxic to animal tissues. These studies have not yet been published but are going through the peer-review process.
Studies that directly measure environmental exposures for individual persons with biological impacts for those same persons have not yet been conducted. However, the overall pattern of results from this research, and from research conducted by other scientists, strongly suggests that mountaintop mining is destructive of local environments in ways that impair human health.
June 24, 2010
By Mannix Porterfield
A lengthy report performed on the industry’s impact by two West Virginia groups leads to a penetrating question: Is King Coal the valuable monarch he projects, or an expensive court jester, draining away taxpayer dollars?
Covering more than 80 pages, the study was conducted by Rory McIlmoil and Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies, based in Morgantown, and Ted Boettner and Paul Miller of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy in Charleston.
Before getting too deep inside the report, the two organizations answered the question, concluding that the coal industry “actually costs West Virginia taxpayers more than it provides.”
As of two years ago, coal was produced in 27 counties with a combined output of 164 million tons and a payroll of 22,493 miners, managers and upper-level staff.
More than half of the production comes from five counties — Boone, Logan, Mingo, Kanawha and Monongalia.
“Coal’s importance for West Virginia is not likely to grow in the future, based on the declining competitiveness of West Virginia coal, resulting from the depletion of the lowest cost coal reserves,” the report said.
Hastening the decline of the industry in the Mountain State likely will be implementation of a federal clean air rule, climate legislation, more rigid limits on mercury emissions, regulations on combustion wastes and pending restrictions on valley fills in strip mining, the report said.
If all those forces come to bear, the report said, coal’s provisions to state and local budgets will “likely diminish,” the researchers said.
“It should be no surprise — coal is not king in the West Virginia economy, even though our decision makers act as if it is,” said Jim Sconyers, chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club.
“It is a total outrage that the long-suffering West Virginia taxpayer is forced to pay millions of dollars so the filthy rich coal companies can destroy our roads, mountains, and communities.”
McIlmoil, the lead author of the report, said the industry does provide substantial benefits to the state but simultaneously imposes massive costs that were evident in the fiscal 2009 budget.
“These are costs that, lacking a change in state policy, will be paid by the citizens of West Virginia for decades to come,” he added.
Given all the plusses and minuses, the report said the net cost to the state in fiscal 2009 came to $97.5 million.