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WVU prof presents latest research linking mountaintop removal mining to health risks

By Staff | Apr 29, 2015

Charleston, WV – After the Tomblin administration announced that it would initiate an evaluation of the growing body of studies linking mountaintop removal coal-mining operations to increased risk of serious illnesses and premature death, Dr. Micheal McCawley of WVU presented the latest research to an audience assembled at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Charleston.

Dr. McCawley served over 27 years as a public health service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He has taught at WVU since 1979. His research includes miner’s health, occupational respiratory disease, aerosol measurement, and ultrafine particles. His presentation focused on the role of very small particles, called ultrafine particulates, in the greater incidence of a variety of health issues found in communities near mountaintop removal mines.

Dr. McCawley, explained that, “We do not have the regulations in place to properly assess the level of air pollution control needed to prevent deleterious health effects from mountaintop removal activities.”

Chad Cordell, of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, the organization that sponsored Dr. McCawley’s presentation, said, “The scientific evidence increasingly shows that the public health consequences of strip mining can be severe. Living near a strip mine increases your risk of asthma, birth defects, cancer, lung disease, and heart disease. These risks have been consistently documented by over two dozen peer reviewed studies.”

In one of the most recent health studies, dust was collected from residential communities near MTR sites and also from non-mining control areas in WV. The main inorganic ingredients of the dust from MTR areas were silica and molybdenum, which points to mining activity as the source. When human lung cells were exposed in laboratory conditions to the dust, the dust from the MTR areas produced cellular changes indicative of tumor formation. The dust from control sites did not produce the cellular changes.

Jim Waggy, of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, said, “This is evidence that calls out for our attention. The coal industry has had its way in WV for a long time. They have resisted effective regulation for a long time. These studies provide concrete, specific, quantitative evidence of some of the costs we are paying by not adequately regulating the coal industry. We believe that the cumulative evidence from these health studies demonstrate that state agencies do not currently have adequate knowledge to safely regulate the practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. They don’t know what constitutes a safe distance from mine sites for homes, parks, and communities. They are not adequately monitoring and controlling particulate dust and water pollution. With that being the case, we believe it is irresponsible to continue issuing new MTR permits. This collection of scientific studies provides enough evidence of damage to public health under current mining regulations that there needs to be a moratorium on MTR permits until we gain a better understanding of these issues.”

Cordell said, “We call on the Tomblin administration to stop allowing new MTR permits to be issued and to immediately revoke the KD#2 MTR permit next to Charleston.”

The Kanawha Forest Coalition was formed to stop the KD#2 MTR mine next to Kanawha State Forest and Charleston area communities. Members include residents of Loudendale, Mt. Alpha, South Hills, Kanawha City, East End, West Side, Fort Hill, and other neighborhoods and towns in the region.

For more information, see kanawhaforestcoalition.org