Front Porch Blog

Water, Coal, and Cancer

Widely varied research all points to the fact that surface mining has negative health effects – of all shapes and sizes – despite the industry’s best efforts to say otherwise.

Nathaniel Hitt, Ph.D., of Viriginia Tech and Michael Hendryx, Ph.D. of West Virginia University recently published a study entitled Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates, which correlates the ecological health of streams in West Virginia to the public health of those who live nearby.

The study concluded that there were “significant associations” between the lack of ecological integrity in the streams and human mortality rates from certain types of cancer.

“Our research shows the importance of streams for people,” Dr. Hitt said. “We learned that some of the smallest organisms living in streams can provide a warning system for one of the largest human health problems, cancer.”

As coal power production is heavily associated with the disintegrity of the streams, it is therefore associated with higher cancer rates observed in these regions.

Before this study, Dr. Hendryx published a series of other studies examining negative health effects and premature deaths of citizens in close proximity to Appalachian coalmines. The studies also made cost-benefit analyses to determine whether the power provided by the mines was indeed worth it when compared with the loss of life in economic terms.

Obviously, the mining industry responded unfavorably to the associations made in the Hendryx study, and hired its own professor, Dr. Jonathan Borak of Yale University, to “debunk” the findings of the Hendryx study.

While Borak’s report illuminated several methodological concerns with the Hendryx study, it by no means disproved any of its findings. Yet a PR branch of the National Mining Association touted the report as “debunking” Dr. Hendryx’s study as “bogus”.

It seems that the truth about the health effects of surface mining will out one way or another.

Other research from a much different organization suggests that water is not the only barometer of public health – and cancer is not the only disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released a study that found links between air pollution, similarly caused by fossil fuel byproduct, and heart risks such as heart attacks and strokes.

This, too, is a concern of West Virginia and the entire Appalachian region, which is dominated by the production of coal power.





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