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Mountaintop Removal Practices Cause Birth Defects

By Jillian Randel

A new study reveals that children living near mountaintop removal mine sites are impacted by the adverse health effects of mining even before they are born.

The study shows that higher rates of birth defects occur in babies conceived by women living near the sites. This comes as no surprise, as mining areas are known for causing higher rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses in local populations.

Researchers at West Virginia University and Washington State University broke the study into two periods between 1996 and 2003.

During the 1996-1999 period, birth defect rates were 13 percent higher in mountaintop removal sites than in non-mining areas; during the 2000-2003 period, birth defect rates in mountaintop removal sites were 42 percent higher than averages in non-mining areas.

The increase in birth defects during the second period correlates with increased environmental damage to the land, air and water–a result of larger, more explosive mountaintop mine sites.

“It is deeply troubling to think that women in Appalachia can make all the right moves to ensure a healthy pregnancy, only to have their child’s health penalized just because of where they live and the water they drink,” said Rachael Goss, an expecting Appalachian mother.

Using the birth records of 1.8 million children, researchers compared infants in mountaintop removal areas throughout West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky to infants in non-mountaintop removal areas.

The study reveals seven types of defects in newborn children, including circulatory and respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and urogenital defects, as well as a category deemed “other.”

Previous studies show that residents near mountaintop removal sites give birth to a disproportionately high number of low birth-weight babies. The new study is significant because it proves that children’s health is negatively affected in the earliest developmental stages.

Researchers found that mining practices in one county also affect children born in surrounding counties, meaning the impact of contamination and poisoning is much more widespread than originally suspected.

The study controlled for a number of variables, including mother’s age, race and ethnic origin, education, smoking and drinking during pregnancy, diabetes, metro/nonmetro location and low prenatal care.

To read the full report, please visit




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