Posts Tagged ‘Health’

Study Confirms Air Pollution from Mountaintop Removal

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - posted by meredith
A recent study connects air pollution from mountaintop removal mines with health problems in nearby communities.

A recent study connects air pollution from mountaintop removal mines with health problems in nearby communities.

For generations, Appalachian mining communities have raised questions about local health problems, wondering whether or not they may be linked to air pollution from surrounding coal mines.

A recent study conducted by a group of West Virginia University researchers has confirmed that suspicion, reporting that potentially dangerous air pollution levels are more likely in areas surrounding mountaintop removal coal mines than in mine-free communities. This suggests a significant correlation between coal mining areas and rates of cardiovascular disease, birth defects and cancer.

Published last week in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, the paper is the latest of more than 20 peer-reviewed studies dating back to 1991 examining the health impacts of mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Explosives used during the mountaintop removal mining process are one of the suggested causes of increased particulate matter, a type of air pollution made up of very tiny particles that can easily be inhaled and become lodged in the lungs. With large blasts of rock and vegetation, mountaintop removal sends these particles into the air, where they are carried far beyond the site of the explosion and into surrounding communities. Previous studies have proven that contact with excess particulate matter is associated with breathing and heart complications, hospital admissions and even death.

This map captures the correlation between deaths from respiratory disease in Appalachia and mountaintop removal coal mining.

This map captures the correlation between deaths from respiratory disease in Appalachia and mountaintop removal coal mining.

Over the course of a year the researchers studied three West Virginia communities, two of which were near mountaintop removal mines, while the third was a non-mining site. By evaluating hospital records and the presence of airborne contaminants in the air, the WVU researchers calculated that there were significantly higher concentrations of dangerous particulate matter in the coal mining communities than in the mine-free zone.

Given the clouds of dust rising up around mountaintop removal explosions, it is no surprise that residents held suspicions about the toll this type of coal mining may take on their health. This study adds to the growing evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining is a harmful practice not only to mountains, but to people.

Click here to learn more about the human cost of mountaintop removal.

A Watched EPA Never Acts: 5 Years After the TVA Coal Ash Disaster

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 - posted by amy
Graphic courtesy of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, www.cleanenergy.org

Graphic courtesy of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, www.cleanenergy.org

It has been five years since the TVA Coal Ash disaster in Tennessee, which sent 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash into Emory and Clinch rivers. While the nation has watched and petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency responsible for issuing federal standards for coal ash disposal, little action has been taken. Perhaps this is similar to the old adage that says “a watched pot never boils.”

On Dec. 22, 2008, the spill alerted many for the first time to the very real threat posed by coal ash impoundments, which can range from 100 to 1,700 acres. While the Kingston spill brought the issue to the forefront, there are also concerns that extend past the threat of a singular catastrophic spill. The slow leakage of contaminated waste into ground and surface waters from unlined coal ash impoundments and landfills has become a major issue across the country, and across the Southeast in particular. Coal ash toxics have leached from impoundments and landfills carrying heavy metals into streams, creeks, lakes and drinking water wells.
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Paige Cordial: Minding Mental Health

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Rachel Ellen Simon

Photo courtesy of Paige Cordial

Photo courtesy of Paige Cordial

Post-traumatic stress disorder is most commonly associated with soldiers who have seen combat, but psychologist Paige Cordial has found similar symptoms in the coalfields of Appalachia. Cordial recently received her doctorate in counseling psychology at Virginia’s Radford University, where she wrote her dissertation on the relationship between physical proximity to mountaintop removal coal mining and the mental health and well-being of Appalachian communities. Among area residents, Cordial documented symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and emotional distress related to the physical destruction wrought by large-scale surface mining.

Originally from Fayette County, W.Va., Cordial first learned about mountaintop removal mining as a student at Berea College in Kentucky. Noting the way in which the natural richness of the region can help people cope with its social problems, Cordial began to wonder: “What does it mean for people who already live in a region plagued by economic problems to have the beauty and richness of the natural environment taken away from them too? What must that do to people emotionally?” She delved deeper into these questions at Radford.

Cordial’s dissertation contributes to the already-considerable scholarship documenting the health effects of mountaintop removal mining, which include elevated rates of cancer, birth defects and heart, lung and kidney diseases. Yet, Cordial is the first to focus specifically on mining’s psychological impacts.

“If you look at interviews and listen to what people [in mining-affected areas] are really saying, they’re talking about a lot of emotional effects – but no one is really highlighting that,” she says. Cordial’s research demonstrates how drastic environmental changes can trigger psychological stressors that, in turn, exacerbate the region’s pre-existing socioeconomic problems, such as high rates of poverty and drug use.

27 Visionaries

Deeply committed to staying in the region, Cordial now works as a clinical psychologist in southwest Virginia. There, she uses her expertise to help individuals with their personal battles, and continues her research to help fight a much larger one.

The Clock is Ticking on Coal Ash: EPA Given 60 Days to Set Deadline on Regulation of Toxic Coal Waste

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 - posted by brian
This week, a federal court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to propose a deadline for rules regulating toxic coal ash. Photo from southeastcoalash.org

This week, a federal court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to propose a deadline for rules regulating toxic coal ash. Photo from southeastcoalash.org

After years of delays and setbacks, the clock is finally ticking on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to propose a deadline for federal regulations of coal ash.

On Tuesday, a federal judge gave the EPA 60 days to file a written submission setting forth a proposed deadline for its review and revision of regulations concerning coal ash, along with its legal justification for the proposed deadline.

This victory for clean water and healthy communities came almost month after the court sided with Appalachian Voices and our allies, agreeing that the EPA has a duty to stop the delays and issue federally enforceable safeguards for the toxic coal waste. You can read the memorandum issued this week by the court here.
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Appalachia’s Contested History

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Bill Kovarik

It has been 50 years since Harry Caudill wrote “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” a landmark history that rejected stereotypes of Appalachian people as backward hillbillies and described the ruthless exploitation they suffered. The book spoke with eloquence to the American conscience and set off a firestorm of controversy. Within a year, Lyndon Johnson would launch his “war on poverty” from the front porch of an Appalachian cabin.

Labor historian Wess Harris, editor of "When Miners March"- a book about the 1921 battle over labor rights on Blair Mountain - points out flaws in the West Virginia state exhibit on the early 20th century mine wars in central Appalachia during one of his "truth tours" of the museum. Photo by Linda Burton

Labor historian Wess Harris, editor of “When Miners March”- a book about the 1921 battle over labor rights on Blair Mountain – points out flaws in the West Virginia state exhibit on the early 20th century mine wars in central Appalachia during one of his “truth tours” of the museum. Photo by Linda Burton

Coming in the middle of the civil rights movement, Caudill’s book also launched some serious soul-searching about poverty, national sacrifice zones and the worth of people who were in the way of corporations.

Since then, great books about Appalachian history and culture have filled library shelves with descriptions of the suffering poor, the arrogant rich, and the extraordinary cruelty of mining society in the early 20th century.

Not surprisingly, you also find people fighting back all throughout this history — from the Cabin Creek strike of 1912 to the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 to the wildcat 1969 black lung strike, and in the environmental protests of the past four decades against strip mining and then mountaintop removal coal mining. There is, in this, a complete and unbroken fabric of human spirit, fighting in support of mine safety, public health and environmental protection.

Why, then, do critics like Wess Harris say we have such poor public history in West Virginia’s state museum, and why does the state of West Virginia refuse to help protect the Blair Mountain Battlefield?

Perhaps the encouraging part is that history does still matter — for all of us. It matters to educators and to the coal industry and its friends. But it also matters to people in labor and environmental movements. There may be several interpretations of history, but very few people would disagree that basic documents and battlegrounds should be preserved. State institutions nearly always approach this obligation with at least some degree of neutrality – except West Virginia.

What’s different today is that the Rust Belt industries are no longer in a position to control their historical messages. The industry that once held the state of West Virginia tightly in its fist is now rapidly losing its grasp.

It’s a moment when history is needed.

Appalachia’s new historians

Labor historian Wess Harris begins his “truth tours” on the steps of the West Virginia State Museum by telling students: “Welcome to our house.” History belongs to the people, he says, not to the corporations. And he tells them to be wary — there are some squatters from the coal companies inside.

With this somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach, Harris has taken about a thousand students and scholars on his personalized truth tours through the museum in downtown Charleston, W.Va. Tours are free, and Harris has encouraged museum officials to join him. So far, none have.

“You know the idea that if you control people’s past, you can control their future? That’s what this is all about,” he says.

A labor historian and editor of two best-selling books about West Virginia — “When Miners March” and “Dead Ringers” — Harris has been particularly concerned about the company store and mine war exhibits.

The re-creation of the old coal company store involves a counter, a cash register and canned goods from the time, framed by a long description of the role of the company store in the center of a mine community’s life. The stores used to pay miners in “scrip,” which was money that could only be spent at the company store. A song about that by Tennessee Ernie Ford — “I owe my soul to the company store,” —is still widely known. Historians are working out just how deeply and dangerously a miner could go into debt, thanks to the recovery of company store records in Whipple, W.Va.

But at the West Virginia museum, the store is easy to explain: “Like credit cards, scrip allowed some families to fall deeply into debt. Others, however, enjoyed the freedom to purchase expensive items, like washing machines…”

When he learned of the museum’s altered history, Harris was outraged, and he wrote the head of the state museum, Randall Reid-Smith, in 2010. “The treatment of scrip as some sort of favor to the miners is an insult to the people of our state,” Harris wrote.

When the state museum responded by saying his criticism was inaccurate, the head of the United Mine Workers of America, Cecil Roberts, joined Harris in demanding a reconsideration of the exhibit.

“Your presentation makes it seem as if the scrip system was little different from a credit card, where miners and their families could pay off expensive purchases over time,” Roberts wrote. “Nowhere [in the exhibit] is it stated that miners had absolutely no choice as to whether they used scrip or not. Nowhere is it mentioned that going somewhere else instead of the company store to purchase goods and equipment was an offense frequently punishable by a beating from the company’s Baldwin-Felts thugs followed by dismissal from employment and eviction from the company house.”

Roberts was also ignored until he wrote West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who — in the middle of an election campaign in 2011 — ordered the state museum to review the exhibit. They did, and a few words were changed: “Company-issued scrip forced some families deep in debt and gave many companies strict economic control over the lives of their workers. In some communities, however, families were able to purchase expensive items, like washing machines…”

The changes in the exhibits did not pacify the UMWA. “They made some minor modifications to some of the exhibits,” said spokesman Phil Smith in September 2013. “But we still have concerns.”

Other critics also still have concerns. “I remember specific conversations about the need for [the West Virginia] museum to include more bottom-up history, more labor history, and more about the 1960s and the war on poverty,” says Ron Eller of the University of Kentucky. “I remember specifically pointing out that the museum should not just reflect the usual pro-coal, pro-development history of the state but that it should also reflect the history of labor struggles, resistance to environmental destruction, and efforts to address economic challenges, especially poverty, in the state.”

History wars and mine wars

A two-sided timeline of Appalachian history reveals an interesting contrast between events that are well-known and events that are sometimes forgotten.

A two-sided timeline of Appalachian history reveals an interesting contrast between events that are well-known and events that are sometimes forgotten.

It’s easy to see why labor historians are unhappy with the West Virginia State Museum, with exhibits like “U.S. Army Stops Armed Insurrection in West Virginia” and “The Failure of Violence.”

The first is presented in silent movie newsreel fashion in a small mock-up theater. Most of the visuals include miners with guns on one side and U.S. Army troops on the other.

Titles in the silent movie read:

“Over the last year, a near-constant state of war has existed between miners and coal companies. Armed troops have been dispatched repeatedly to quell the bloodshed. The recent flare-up has been sparked by the cold-blooded murder of Matewan police chief Smiling Sid Hatfield — a popular friend of the miner. They are stopped at Blair Mountain by Logan County sheriff Don Chafin and a small army of deputies. The miners and Chafin’s army shoot it out for three days along a 10-mile front. Sixteen men are killed. President Harding dispatches U.S. Army infantry …. The miners, many of them veterans of the Great War, surrender rather than confront their former comrades in arms. Some union leaders are placed under arrest for treason and murder. Most miners are allowed to board trains and return to their families. Thus ends the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest insurrection since the Civil War.”

According to Harris, the entire basis of the exhibit is inaccurate. The union actually tried to call off the march on Blair Mountain in 1921. The Army was called in to separate the miners from the mine guards. Nor does the exhibit present any context for the march, other than the cold-blooded murder by some unnamed individual. No one would know that the murderers were coal mine guards whose co-workers and bosses were on the other side at Blair Mountain. And if the museum is going to say that the union leaders were charged with treason, it ought to add that they were acquitted, Harris says.

There’s another panel about the Battle of Blair Mountain called: “The Failure of Violence.” The exhibit claimed — falsely — that in 1921, union organizers turned to violence so that they could get more union members.

“Ten thousand citizens take up arms (in 1921) to end the slave labor camps … and they call it a failure?” Harris says. “It was a serious challenge to the old system. It was no failure.”

But at the very least, the exhibit notes that the Battle of Blair Mountain was the “largest insurrection since the U.S. Civil War.” Given that, it’s hard to understand the role of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in challenging historical protection for the Blair Mountain battlefield.

The Battle Over the Battle of Blair Mountain

Blair Mountain is the labor movement’s equivalent of the Gettysburg battlefield. The idea of preserving Blair Mountain has been around for decades, but an on-the-ground history of the battlefield in the 1990s and 2000s helped make the case.
Battle of Blair sign

Over the last 15 years, Harvard Ayers (one of the founders of Appalachian Voices), along with historian Barbara Rasmussen and Blair, W.Va., resident Kenny King, performed formal archaeological surveys of the battlefield and found tens of thousands of bullets and other artifacts. Through the pattern of discoveries, they were able to trace shifting battle lines and show where both mine guards and miners were located.

This evidence helped make the case for a National Historic Landmark designation that, they hoped, would preserve the mountain from mountaintop removal coal mining. Their evidence was impressive enough that the U.S. National Park Service granted the site historic register status in March 2009, a move supported by the UMWA and a variety of environmental and historical preservation groups.

But the listing immediately led to an unprecedented controversy. According to law, a state has to want the designation, and a few months after it was granted, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History wrote to the Park Service asking that the battlefield be de-listed. The state office said it found minor problems with the listing, such as a handful of landowners who had not voted for or against the listing.

Park Service officials then agreed to de-list the site in January of 2010, taking a step that is usually reserved for situations when historic buildings have burned down. No other de-listing has ever taken place for such political reasons, and no explanation was ever forthcoming from the Park Service, which has maintained a stony silence about the incident.

A lawsuit challenging the de-listing was filed by a coalition of environmental and preservation groups in 2010. A court ruled against the coalition in 2012 on a technicality having to do with questions of standing. In the summer of 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would review mining permit applications.

This could mean that the coal industry will be allowed to destroy Blair Mountain. Or, since the Corps of Engineers is supposed to consider the historic value of land to be mined, it could mean more time for Blair Mountain and preservationists who are seeking a reprieve.

Finding closure at the company store

Joy Lynn pictured with a display case of "scrip," a form of money paid to miners which could only be used in the store. Photo by Linda Burton

Joy Lynn pictured with a display case of “scrip,” a form of money paid to miners which could only be used in the store. Photo by Linda Burton

One of West Virginia’s innovative new historians is Joy Lynn, who grew up near the town of Whipple, W.Va. As a child, she was fascinated by an enormous, rambling old wood frame building that seemed to glow with history. “I’m going to own that someday,” she told her father back in the 1950s.

The dream came true in 2006, when she and husband Chuck bought the Whipple Company Store and prepared to open an antique shop. As neighbors dropped by and the word got out, people began touring the old company store, and they started telling stories. Lynn was hooked.

One of the most interesting people to show up at the company store was the former bookkeeper who explained, in detail, how the system of company money — called scrip — and indebtedness actually worked.

Over the years, dozens of others showed up with very human and often harrowing stories to tell. It was not possible to leave town, or to retrieve items from the mail, if you owed the coal company any money, Lynn learned from her visitors. On the other hand, if a husband died, it was not possible for the family to stay unless the mother remarried. She had four weeks, and then the mine guards would evict her and the children.

At the Whipple County Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum, Joy Lynn gathers stories from families with personal connections to the region's coal history.

At the Whipple County Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum, Joy Lynn gathers stories from families with personal connections to the region’s coal history.

The people who experienced this, or sometimes their children, show up almost every day. “Sometimes they just unglue,” Lynn says. One told her: “I realize what you’re doing. You’re letting people find closure in their life.”

Lynn will insist that she’s just a tour guide. But her visitors say something else. “When I came up on this porch you were just a tour guide,” said one. “Now I just want to know if I can hug you.”

Online Feature: Appalachian History Podcasts

DaveTabler

Mountain history is alive and well, thanks to historians like Dave Tabler. His blog — AppalachianHistory.net — hosts more than 1,300 entries and hundreds of podcasts on topics ranging from mountain music to labor history to personal experiences. “I want to share with my readers and listeners the idea that history is a living thing, a deep reservoir from which to nourish today’s culture, a tool to shape our current notions of what our heritage is and therefore what to do next to preserve and extend it,” Tabler says. Read the full story at appvoices.org/thevoice/podcasts

Workers Exposed to Toxins at Kingston Ash Spill Cleanup

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Kimber Ray

A federal lawsuit alleges that Jacobs Engineering Group knowingly exposed workers to toxic substances during cleanup of the 2008 coal fly ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 22, claims Jacobs Engineering deliberately misrepresented the health hazards of fly ash, failed to provide adequate protection to workers, and engaged in improper air quality monitoring. According to the Knox News, the cleanup crew was told that “you could drink fly ash daily and suffer no adverse health effects.”

Workers contend that not only were requests for protective equipment such as dust masks and respirators denied, but also that some workers prescribed such equipment by their doctors were ordered not to wear it.

Jacobs Engineering is also implicated in manipulating air monitoring systems to cover up the extent of hazardous site conditions. To prevent dust movement near the air monitors, the company kept the area near the monitors wet and placed the systems in locations with favorable wind conditions.

While a number of research studies warned of the health hazards posed by coal ash, Dr. Gregory Button, of the University of Tennessee, told the Times Free Press that the TVA assisted government officials in authoring a report that found no harm to the community’s health was expected from the spill.

Mining Waste Polluting the New River

Despite mounting evidence that dangerously high levels of zinc are flowing into Appalachia’s New River from the Indian Branch tributary in Wythe County, Va., Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has done little to address the issue.

Local citizens began expressing concerns to the department earlier this year when dissolved minerals in the water caused a milky discoloration. At that time, the level of zinc in Indian Branch was over 30 times the EPA established safe limit. By July that level had soared to 130 times the allowable limit.

A former zinc mine site, now owned by Dixon Lumber Company, was identified as the source of the pollution. A pipe that channeled Indian Branch beneath a field of mine tailings had a leak that was complicated by this year’s unusually heavy rains, contaminating the waterway.

Zinc poisoning can result in headaches, nausea and diarrhea; long-term exposure compromises immunity and cardiovascular health.

Following a Washington Times article by Lisa King regarding the zinc contamination, the department has met with associates from Dixon Lumber to establish a plan for addressing water quality issues.

Summer Rains Dampen Fall Colors

Among the vibrant display of autumn leaves, red may be missing from this season’s palette. According to Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at Western Carolina University, there are three main factors that bestow red coloration: ample sunshine, dry air, and cool temperatures. With this year’s uncommonly wet summer, yellow and orange could be the dominant fall colors. However, the cool nights of September might yet redeem the brilliant reds of fall.

A Legislative Lesson in Taking the Easy Way Out

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 - posted by brian
A North Carolina bill includes proposes allowing groundwater contamination up to a landowners property line, a plan supported by Duke Energy, which is being sued for coal ash pollution at its Riverbend Plant. Photo by the Catawba Riverkeeper.

A North Carolina bill includes proposes allowing groundwater contamination up to a landowner’s property line, a plan supported by Duke Energy, which is being sued for coal ash pollution at its Riverbend Plant. Photo by the Catawba Riverkeeper.

In the midst of allegations against Duke Energy for coal ash pollution at multiple coal-fired plants, a bill in the North Carolina House of Representatives could give polluters a free pass and build a buffer against lawsuits.

Already passed by the N.C. Senate, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 (S 612) proposes a “boundary loophole” that would allow groundwater to be contaminated by toxic chemicals such as arsenic, selenium and mercury, as long as it remains inside the owner’s property line. That terrifying prospect is hardly assuaged by the sponsors’ claim that their beyond-polluter-friendly bill seeks to “provide regulatory relief to the citizens of North Carolina.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the recent exploits of the N.C. General Assembly, you’d assume that the bill goes beyond creating a boundary loophole. You’d be right. The entirely anti-environmental bill includes provisions to fast-track the permitting process for certain environmental permits and to prevent local environmental rules from being stricter than state or federal statutes or regulations.

The legislature already passed a reform bill forbidding new state rules from being more stringent than federal standards last year. Of course, like most of the ill-conceived crusades being waged in Raleigh, that’s easier said than done.
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EPA’s Benefits Greatly Outweigh Costs, According to OMB Report

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 - posted by Davis Wax

A new report shows the EPA's rules, especially on air pollution, are saving money and lives.

During their push to abolish, obstruct and stymie the Environmental Protection Agency over the past few years, House Republicans have beleaguered the agency for regulatory measures they consider “job-killing” or “anti-industry,” hoping to revert federal environmental regulation to state control or make protections obsolete altogether.

Those in favor of federal rules have argued that national standards allow for the most effective and consistent protections and, as a result, will lead to reduced costs in health care directly associated with air and water pollution.

A new report from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget makes a clear case for why the country needs the EPA. The report includes an analysis of the costs and benefits of a number of federal regulations over the past decade and shows EPA rules, especially those pertaining to air protection, to be the most costly among all the rules evaluated but also the most beneficial.

The budget office estimates that the EPA’s rules account for 58 to 80 percent of the monetized benefits of all federal rules, but 44 to 54 percent of the total costs. Out of these benefits, close to 99 percent come from rules that seek to improve air quality. The report claims that the large estimated benefits of the EPA rules following the arrival of the Clean Air Act stem mostly from the reduction of a single air pollutant: fine particulate matter.
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Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 - posted by Jil

OSM Approves Expansion of Appalachia’s Largest Slurry Impoundment

The Federal Office of Surface Mining recently approved an expansion of the Brushy Fork impoundment in West Virginia — one of the largest slurry disposal sites in the country — to hold two billion more gallons of the waste produced from washing coal. Unless the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection denies the expansion, the earthen dam holding back billions of gallons of coal waste will expand to nearly 750-feet tall, larger than the Hoover Dam.

Photo by Vivian Stockman

Virginia Transportation Board OKs Coalfields Expressway

In February, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board approved two sections of the Coalfields Expressway despite environmental impacts and public concerns that the route will bypass communities that could possibly benefit from the highway project. Proposed by Alpha Natural Resources, the four-lane highway project would begin as a 26-mile mountaintop removal coal mine. By proposing a public-private partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Alpha Natural Resources substantially reduced VDOT’s estimated costs. The project is under review by the Federal Highway Administration, which will either give VDOT approval to move forward with construction, or require a supplemental environmental study.

More Research Links Mountaintop Removal and Poor Health

A recent study focused in eastern Kentucky is the latest in a line of research by West Virginia University’s Dr. Michael Hendryx linking mountaintop removal to poor health in nearby communities. Published in the online “Journal of Rural Health,” the article compares survey responses gathered in counties where mountaintop removal occurs to counties where it does not. After ruling out factors including tobacco use, income, education and obesity, the study found that residents of Floyd County, Ky., suffer a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer than residents of nearby Elliott and Rowan counties. Previous studies have found that cancers and other health problems increase with the amount of mining that occurs nearby. Researchers recommend that a more comprehensive study measure air and water quality to reveal exposure to pollutants.

Greenhouse Gas Rules May Have to Wait

The announcement of the EPA’s long-awaited plan to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants last spring brought cheers from environmental groups and added to fervorous accusations of an Obama-led “war on coal.” Now that the deadline for the rule has arrived, the agency is likely to revisit its provisions and limits. As proposed, the rule would impact new power plants and permitted plants that have not begun construction by limiting carbon emissions to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour of electrical output — a level unlikely to be met by coal-fired power plants. Regardless of when the rule is finalized, it is almost certain to be challenged by the coal industry and receive substantial congressional attention. The delay comes as abundant natural gas is causing coal plant retirements and making the construction of new coal-fired units uneconomical. The EPA will likely reintroduce the rule for another round of public comments.

Stop Brushing off the Bad Stuff

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 - posted by brian
However complex the causes of the ongoing health crisis in Appalachia, denial accomplishes nothing but the perpetuation of the status quo. Yet every time claims that could negatively impact the coal industry surface, Appalachian legislators throw up a black sheet.

However complex the causes of the ongoing health crisis in Appalachia, denial accomplishes nothing but the perpetuation of the status quo. Yet every time claims that could negatively impact the coal industry surface, Appalachian legislators throw up a black sheet.

West Virginia University professor and public health researcher Dr. Michael Hendryx’s latest article, “Personal and Family Health in Rural Areas of Kentucky With and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining,” appeared in the online Journal of Rural Health a couple of days ago. The study immediately gained the attention of Kentucky media, and supporters of the coal industry have been quick to write off Hendryx’s methods and conclusions — they just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Hendryx has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. He’s the director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center and after receiving a Ph.D. in psychology, he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Methodology at the University of Chicago. Little of that seems to matter, however, because much of his research is concentrated on poor health in Appalachian coal-mining communities, especially those where mountaintop removal takes place.

Like other studies Hendryx has conducted, the eastern Kentucky-focused article relies on comparing data gathered in counties with mountaintop removal to data from counties without it. More than 900 residents of Rowan and Elliott counties (no mountaintop removal) and Floyd County (mountaintop removal) were asked similar questions about their family health history and incidents of cancer to those that the U.S. Center for Disease Control uses in gathering data.

After ruling out factors including tobacco use, income, education and obesity, the study found that residents of Floyd County suffer a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer, and dramatically higher incidences of pulmonary and respiratory diseases over the past five years than residents of Elliott and Rowan counties.

These results should surprise no one, least of all the families in Floyd County that participated in the study. Yet somehow, supporters of the widespread use of mountaintop removal still refuse to consider that blowing up mountains might impact human health.
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