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Studies


Mountaintop Removal and Job Creation: Exploring the Relationship Using Spatial Regression

The authors focus on the impacts of MTR on the quality of life of residents in central Appalachia through increased employment. This paper addresses the argument by many policymakers that despite the environmental impacts, MTR contributes to local economies through job creation and retention. The authors used “socio-spatial analysis” to investigate MTR’s impact on employment in communities in southern West Virginia. They integrated coal mining permit boundaries with employment indicators obtained from the U.S. Census. Contrary to pro-MTR arguments, the authors found “no supporting evidence suggesting MTR contributed positively to nearby communities’ employment.” The authors also use Gaventa’s (1980) work to link their findings to “broader issues of hegemony [power, domination] at the local level as well as at larger scales of policy formation.”

Brad R. Woods and Jason S. Gordoni
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2011




Cumulative impacts of mountaintop mining on an Appalachian watershed

Mountaintop mining is the dominant form of coal mining and the largest driver of land cover change in the central Appalachians. The waste rock from these surface mines is disposed of in the adjacent river valleys, leading to a burial of headwater streams and dramatic increases in salinity and trace metal concentrations immediately downstream. In this synoptic study we document the cumulative impact of more than 100 mining discharge outlets and approximately 28 km2 of active and reclaimed surface coal mines on the Upper Mud River of West Virginia. We measured the concentrations of major and trace elements within the tributaries and the mainstem and found that upstream of the mines water quality was equivalent to state reference sites. However, as eight separate mining-impacted tributaries contributed their flow, conductivity and the concentrations of selenium, sulfate, magnesium, and other inorganic solutes increased at a rate directly proportional to the upstream areal extent of mining. We found strong linear correlations between the concentrations of these contaminants in the river and the proportion of the contributing watershed in surface mines. All tributaries draining mountaintop-mining-impacted catchments were characterized by high conductivity and increased sulfate concentration, while concentrations of some solutes such as Se, Sr, and N were lower in the two tributaries draining reclaimed mines. Our results demonstrate the cumulative impact of multiple mines within a single catchment and provide evidence that mines reclaimed nearly two decades ago continue to contribute significantly to water quality degradation within this watershed.

T. Ty Lindberg, Emily S. Bernhardt, Raven Bier, A. M. Helton, R. Brittany Merola, Avner Vengosh, and Richard T. Di Giulio (2011) – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America




Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context

In this study, an analysis of life expectancy on the county level showed that all of the eight counties in Kentucky where ICG and Frasure Creek operate mountaintop removal mines are among the bottom 10% of US counties in terms of life expectancy, and all but two of these counties have seen a decrease in life expectancy over the past 10 years.  Two of the counties, Perry and Pike, which happen to be the two biggest coal producing counties in Kentucky, were both among the bottom 10 (out of 3,147 counties) for trends in life expectancy between 1997 and 2007. While nationwide life expectancy increased by 1.5 years over the decade, average life expectancy in these two counties actually decreased by about a year.  In West Virginia, Mingo, Logan, and McDowell counties (all of which are heavily burdened by mountaintop removal) are in the bottom 1% in the nation. The surrounding counties including Lincoln, Boone, and Wyoming are in the bottom 10%.

Kulkarni, SC., A. Levin-Rector, M. Ezzati and C. Murray. “Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context”. Population Health Metrics. 9(2011): 16.




Severe Occupational Pneumoconiosis Among West Virginia Coal Miners: 138 Cases of Progressive Massive Fibrosis Compensated Between 2000-2009

A study conducted by West Virginia University concluded that despite existing regulations on dust levels, coal miners continue to die from black lung disease. In the details of the study, it was revealed the black lung developed in 138 West Virginia coal miners at a mean age of 52.6 years after an average of 30 years work tenure. In addition, overall lung function declined dramatically, especially among individuals who were engaged in work tasks that put them in direct contact to dust exposure. The authors state that “virtually all these miners’ dust exposures occurred after the implementation of current Federal dust regulations.”

Wade, AW., E.L. Petsonk, B. Young, and I. Mogri.  “Severe Occupational Pneumoconiosis Among West Virginia Coal Miners: 138 Cases of Progressive Massive Fibrosis Compensated Between 2000-2009.” CHEST.. 139, 6 (2011): 1458-1462.




Health-Related Quality of Life Among Central Appalachian Residents in Mountaintop Mining Counties

In this study, residents in counties with mountaintop removal coal mining reported an average of 18 more unhealthy days (poor physical, mental, and activity limitation) per year as compared to other counties:  “…approximately 1,404 days, or almost four years, of an average American lifetime.”  The authors state that these results contribute to the evidence base in support of the EPA’s April 2010 decision to make new mountaintop removal coal mining permits more difficult to obtain.

Zullig, KJ. and M. Hendryx.(2011) “Health-Related Quality of Life Among Central Appalachian Residents in Mountaintop Mining Counties.” American Journal of Public Health. 101, 5 (2011): 848-53.




The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003

This study found that six types of birth defects – circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and problems from “other” types of defects – occurred more frequently in areas near mountaintop removal mines. The results also showed a spatial correlation that suggests that mountaintop removal in one county may cause birth defects in nearby counties.

Ahern, M., M. Hendryx, J. Conley, E. Fedorko, A. Ducatman, and K. Zullig. (2011)“The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003.” Environmental Research: Article in Press.




Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal

This study found that the environmental damage caused by all the aspects of coal’s life cycle, including emissions and impact on climate change, cost the American public roughly $500 billion annually and increased the true cost of coal by up to $0.17/kWh. The study included the more than 100,000 miners killed since 1900 and the federal funding needed to cover medical costs associated with black lung disease, which has claimed more than 200,00 lives.  The authors state that “…these [externalities] are often not taken into account in decision making and when they are not accounted for, they can distort the decision-making process and reduce the welfare of society.”

Epstein, P., J. Buonocore, K. Eckerle, M. Hendryx, B. M. Stout III, R. Heinberg, R. W. Clapp, B. May, N. L. Reinhart, M. M. Ahern, S. K. Doshi, and L. Glustrom. (2011) “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1219: 73-98.




Mountaintop Mining Valley Fills and Aquatic Ecosystems: A Scientific Primer on Impacts and Mitigation Approaches

Southern Appalachian forests are recognized as a biodiversity hot spot of global significance, particularly for endemic aquatic salamanders and mussels. The dominant driver of land-cover and land-use change in this region is surface mining, with an ever-increasing proportion occurring as mountaintop mining with valley fill operations (MTVF). In MTVF, seams of coal are exposed using explosives, and the resulting noncoal overburden is pushed into adjacent valleys to facilitate coal extraction. To date, MTVF throughout the Appalachians have converted 1.1 million hectares of forest to surface mines and buried more than 2,000 km of stream channel beneath mining overburden. The impacts of these lost forests and buried streams are propagated throughout the river networks of the region as the resulting sediment and chemical pollutants are transmitted downstream. There is, to date, no evidence to suggest that the extensive chemical and hydrologic alterations of streams by MTVF can be offset or reversed by currently required reclamation and mitigation practices.

Margaret A. Palmer and Emily S. Bernhardt(2011) Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences




Poverty and Mortality Disparities in Central Appalachia: Mountaintop Mining and Environmental Justice

Hendryx found that mountaintop removal coal mining areas had “significantly higher mortality rates, total poverty rates and child poverty rates every year” as compared to other counties.  He concludes that people living in mountaintop removal coal mining areas experience persistently elevated poverty and mortality rates and that efforts to reduce these disparities must focus on the Appalachian coalfields.

Hendryx, M.  (2011) “Poverty and Mortality Disparities in Central Appalachia: Mountaintop Mining and Environmental Justice.” Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice: Vol 4 (3) pp 44-53.




Chronic Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Mountaintop Mining Areas of Central Appalachian States

This study found that mountaintop removal coal mining activity is “significantly” associated with elevated chronic cardiovascular disease mortality rates and recommends more research on the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on public health.

Esch, L. and M. Hendryx.  (2011) “Chronic Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Mountaintop Mining Areas of Central Appalachian States.”  Journal of Rural Health.





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