Mountaintop removal promotes lung cancer

Posted by Thom Kay | October 17, 2014 at 10:05 am


A map from The Human Cost of Coal showing the above-average number of lung cancer deaths per 100,000 people in Central Appalachian Counties.

The body of research linking mountaintop removal mining to lung cancer just got a whole lot stronger.

Using dust samples collected in communities near mountaintop removal mines, a new study conducted by Dr. Sudjit Luanpitpong and other West Virginia University researchers found a direct link between air pollution and tumor growth.

From Ken Ward, Jr. of The Charleston Gazette:

The study results “provide new evidence for the carcinogenic potential” of mountaintop removal dust emissions and “support further risk assessment and implementation of exposure control” for that dust, according to the paper, published online Tuesday by the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Six years ago, researchers found a close correlation between living in proximity of mountaintop removal coal mining sites and lung cancer mortality rates, even after adjusting for factors like smoking, poverty, race, etc. That 2008 study is just one of more than 20 studies linking mountaintop removal to health issues in neighboring communities.

While people in Appalachia have been aware of this strong correlation, this new study linking dust from mountaintop removal sites directly to the growth of lung cancer cells is the first of its kind.

“To me, this is one of the most important papers that we’ve done,” said [Dr. Michael Hendryx], a co-author of the new paper. “There hasn’t been a direct link between environmental data and human data until this study.”

Hendryx said, “The larger implication is that we have evidence of environmental conditions in mining communities that promote human lung cancer. Previous studies … have been criticized for being only correlational studies of illness in mining communities, and with this study we have solid evidence that mining dust collected from residential communities causes cancerous human lung cell changes.”

The coal industry and its allies in Congress have always been eager to dismiss claims that air and water pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining have any link to the high rates of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects, or the decrease in life expectancy that counties with heavy mining have experienced over the past two decades.

Will this study get them to finally change their tune? It’s almost certain it won’t. It will be up to those of us who care about the health of Appalachian communities to raise our voices and simply drown them out.

Click here to learn more about how mountaintop removal impacts health in Appalachia, or visit The Human Cost of Coal on iLoveMountains.org.



8 Responses

  1. john says:

    Was smoking ruled out as a cause?

  2. brian says:

    Good question, John. Unlike much of the past research looking at the connection between health and mountaintop removal–even though it also controlled for such factors as smoking–this study is so significant because it looks at the direct effect particulate matter from mountaintop removal mines has on healthy human lung cells. This study didn’t involve community health surveys where excluding underground miners exposed to coal dust or controlling for factors like smoking would be necessary. So even though it supports the conclusions of previous studies, it takes it a very important step further. As one researcher said, “There hasn’t been a direct link between environmental data and human data until this study.” You have to register to see the full study, but here is the abstract: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es504263u

  3. john says:

    Thank-you

  4. Jim Stolz says:

    Mr. Greedy always gets shown for what he really is in the end !

  5. “It will be up to those of us who care about the health of Appalachian communities to raise our voices and simply drown them out.” So let’s promote the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, which would end mountaintop removal by addressing the health impacts. If the ACHE Act, HR 526 in this Congress, is passed, coal companies could not get a new or expanded mountaintop removal permit until the federal government shows that it doesn’t harm our health.
    Learn more at http://acheact.org.
    In delivering information about the health impacts of mountaintop removal, it would be great to provide a solution. It would be great for our allies to acknowledge that the ACHE Act exists…

  6. bo webb says:

    Yes it would be great to see our allies acknowledge our bill the ACHE Act which WILL END mtr. Why they continue to refuse to acknowledge the Ache Act’s existence is no different than the politicians from WV that refuse to acknowledge the science. It’s time that our allies get on board and help push the ACHE Act or expose themselves as pretenders.

  7. CB Reed says:

    Yes The Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act is why we have this research for it is them, that live in these mountaintop removal (MTR) communities. Along with Dr. Hendryx, Dr. Knuckles, Coal River Mtn. Watch and Bo Webb, we now have more then enough research to end this abuse. By supporting The ACHE Act, you are actively choosing to help save lives. I agree with Vernon Haltom, it would be great if our allies would not just acknowledge us but support us for it is the only bill that will end MTR. By not doing this, it is just like the politicians who don’t acknowledge the science.

  8. Ending mountaintop removal is a moral test of the American conscience and political integrity. More than a sufficient number of peer-reviewed studies point to the poisonous toxic effects upon community and personal health from the pollutants spewed by the extractive process of mountaintop mining.

    The coal-producing state political establishments are too beholden to the coal industry to take any responsible measures, indeed they are trying to loosen the weak and poorly-enforced regulations that are on the books. An analogy is the civil rights movement of the 1960′s, in which southern states were not going to effect integration, voting, and other justices for African-Americans. National policy that has priority of human health over industry profit is essential. The ACHE ACT solidly addresses this with a freeze on new MTR permits followed by a federal health study. I urge all App Voices supporters to get behind this bill. PLEASE!

    http://www.acheact.org for further information.

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