Makayla Urias, 8, from Pike County, Kentucky holds contaminated water samples taken from her home which is surrounded by mountaintop removal coal mining.

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Scientific Studies

2012 - Mountaintop Removal and Job Creation: Exploring the Relationship Using Spatial Regression

2011 - Cumulative impacts of mountaintop mining on an Appalachian watershed

2011 - Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context

2011 - Severe Occupational Pneumoconiosis Among West Virginia Coal Miners: 138 Cases of Progressive Massive Fibrosis Compensated Between 2000-2009

2011 - Health-Related Quality of Life Among Central Appalachian Residents in Mountaintop Mining Counties

2011 - The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003

2011 - Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal

2011 - Mountaintop Mining Valley Fills and Aquatic Ecosystems: A Scientific Primer on Impacts and Mitigation Approaches

2011 - Poverty and Mortality Disparities in Central Appalachia: Mountaintop Mining and Environmental Justice

2011 - Chronic Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Mountaintop Mining Areas of Central Appalachian States

2011 - Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and without Mountaintop Coal Mining

2010 - Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates

2010 - Residence in Coal-Mining Areas and Low Birth Weight Outcomes

2010 - A Geographical Information System-Based Analysis of Cancer Mortality and Population Exposure to Coal Mining Activities in West Virginia

2010 - A Comparative Analysis of Health-Related Quality of Life for Residents of U.S.Counties with and without Coal Mining

2010 - Learning Outcomes among Students in Relation to West Virginia Coal Mining: an Environmental Riskscape Approach

2010 - Mountaintop Mining Consequences

2009 - Mortality from Heart, Respiratory, and Kidney Disease in Coal Mining Areas of Appalachia

2009 - Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost

2008 - Early Deaths: West Virginians Have Some of the Shortest Life Expectancies in the United States

2008 - Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia

2008 - Lung cancer mortality is elevated in coal-mining areas of Appalachia

2008 - Mortality Rates in Appalachian Coal Mining Counties: 24 Years Behind the Nation

2007 - Hospitalization Patterns Associated with Appalachian Coal Mining

Peer-reviewed Study Details

From 2007 to the present, 21 peer-reviewed scientific studies have proven the negative impacts that coal mining has on the economy, ecology and human health in Central Appalachia. The evidence is overwhelming. Coal mining has damaging effects on the ecosystem — and human lives.

Here you will find plain-English summaries of these studies meant to be easily understood by non-experts.

The summaries were written by Coal River Mountain Watch, and you can read more about each study and download additional resources on their website. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition also have additional resources available.

Key Facts

  • people living near mountaintop mining have cancer rates of 14.4% compared to 9.4% for people elsewhere in Appalachia
  • the rate of children born with birth defects is 42% higher in mountaintop removal mining areas
  • the public health costs of pollution from coal operations in Appalachia amount to a staggering $75 billion a year

2012 - 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


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


2011 - 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.


2011 - 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.


2011 - 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.


2011 - 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.

Read the full article and learn more:
http://crmw.net/resources/mtr-and-birth-defects.php


2011 - 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.


2011 - 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


2011 - 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.


2011 - 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.


2011 - Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and without Mountaintop Coal Mining

This study focuses specifically on the risks for residents living in communities with mountaintop removal coal mining.  Using data from a health survey, the authors found that the incidence of self-reported cancer was much higher in mountaintop removal coal mining communities.  The authors state that “if the rates found in this study represent the region, a 5% higher cancer rate translates to an additional 60,000 people with cancer in central Appalachian mountaintop mining counties.”

Hendryx, M., L. Wolfe, J. Luo, and B. Webb.  (2011) “Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and without Mountaintop Coal Mining.”  Journal of Community Health.

Read the full article and learn more:
http://crmw.net/resources/mtr-and-cancer.php


2010 - Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates

This study linked the ecological integrity of streams to cancer mortality in nearby communities of West Virginia.  This study also found significant links between coal mining, decreased ecological integrity, and increasing cancer mortality rates. These findings indicate that West Virginians living near streams polluted by mine waste are more likely to die of cancer.

Hitt, NP. (2010) “Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates.” EcoHealth. 7 : 91-104.


2010 - Residence in Coal-Mining Areas and Low Birth Weight Outcomes

This study found that after controlling for covariates (other influences), residents in coal mining areas of West Virginia still had a higher risk of having a baby with a low birth weight.  The authors state that the “persistence of a mining effect on low birth weight outcomes suggests an environmental effect resulting from pollution from mining activities,” and that air and water quality assessments are needed for mining communities.

Ahern, M., M. Mullett, K. MacKay and C. Hamilton.  (2010) “Residence in Coal-Mining Areas and Low Birth Weight Outcomes.”  Maternal Child Health, Jan 2010.


2010 - A Geographical Information System-Based Analysis of Cancer Mortality and Population Exposure to Coal Mining Activities in West Virginia

This study uses two geographical information system (GIS) techniques to find that the activities of the coal mining industry contribute to cancer mortality.  This study uses a new measure to look at the distance of populations to components of the coal mining industry such as mines, processing plants, slurry impoundments, and underground slurry injections.  The results add to the body of evidence that coal mining poses environmental risks to residents of coal mining communities in West Virginia.

Hendryx, M., E. Fedorko, and A. Anesetti-Rotherme.  (2010) “A Geographical Information System-Based Analysis of Cancer Mortality and Population Exposure to Coal Mining Activities in West Virginia.”  Geospatial Health 4(2), 2010


2010 - A Comparative Analysis of Health-Related Quality of Life for Residents of U.S.Counties with and without Coal Mining

The authors show that residents of coal mining counties both inside and outside of Appalachia had fewer healthy days for both physical and mental reasons.  The disparities were greatest for people residing in Appalachian coal mining areas.  The authors conclude that residents living in coal mining areas are “characterized by greater socioeconomic disadvantage, riskier health behaviors, and environmental degradation” which are all associated with a lower health-related quality of life.

Zullig, K., and M. Hendryx.  (2010) “A Comparative Analysis of Health-Related Quality of Life for Residents of U.S.Counties with and without Coal Mining.”  Public Health Reports, Volume 125


2010 - Learning Outcomes among Students in Relation to West Virginia Coal Mining: an Environmental Riskscape Approach

In this study, the authors examined the associations between coal mining and learning outcomes among students in West Virginia public schools 2005-2008.  The authors found that “disparities in educational performance in mining areas” reflected many different “environmental riskscape” disadvantages for students living in coal mining areas.  The authors recommend further research on the linkages between mining pollution and learning outcomes in children.

Cain, L., and M. Hendryx.  (2010)  “Learning Outcomes among Students in relation to West Virginia Coal Mining: an Environmental Riskscape Approach.”  Environmental Justice, Volume 3, Number 2, 2010.


2010 - Mountaintop Mining Consequences

In this landmark article in Science magazine, 12 scientists conducted an independent study and literature review on the impacts of environmental contamination from mountaintop removal mining.  Results included evidence of water pollution even on reclaimed sites, increased hospitalizations for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension, and increased incidents of lung cancer, chronic heart, lung and kidney disease, and overall mortality rates. As a result of these findings, the paper calls for the halting of all new mountaintop removal mining permits.

Palmer, M.S., E. S. Bernhardt, W. H. Schlesinger, K. N. Eshleman, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, M. S. Hendryx, A. D. Lemly, G. E. Likens, O. L. Loucks, M. E. Power, P. S. White, P. R. Wilcock. (2010) “Mountaintop Mining Consequences.” Science, 327: 148-9.


2009 - Mortality from Heart, Respiratory, and Kidney Disease in Coal Mining Areas of Appalachia

Hendryx found that chronic heart, respiratory, and kidney disease were significantly higher in coal mining areas of Appalachia than in non-mining areas. He states that coal mining activities expose residents to environmental contaminants like particulate matter and toxic chemicals, agents known to cause chronic disease.  Hendryx states that it is “critical to address issues of environmental equity and to reduce environmental and socioeconomic disparity through economic and policy interventions.”

Hendryx, M.  (2009) “Mortality from heart, respiratory, and kidney disease in coal mining areas of Appalachia.” International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health. 82: 243-49.


2009 - Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost

An analysis of the value of statistical life lost showed that the costs associated with coal mining in Appalachia continue to exceed the economic benefits gained from mining. The authors found that “age-adjusted mortality rates were higher every year from 1979 – 2005 in Appalachian coal mining areas compared with other areas of Appalachia or the nation.” Illnesses seen in coal mining areas of Appalachia “are consistent with a hypothesis of exposure to water and air pollution from mining activities.”

Hendryx, M. (2009) “Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost.” Public Health Reports. 124: 541-50

Read the full article and learn more:
http://crmw.net/resources/coal-mining-and-mortality.php


2008 - Early Deaths: West Virginians Have Some of the Shortest Life Expectancies in the United States

 

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care analyzed a 2008 report from Harvard which examined life expectancies in the U.S.  They found that Southern West Virginia has some of the lowest life expectancies in the country. McDowell, Logan and Mingo counties were rated among the lowest one percent for shortest life expectancy in the United States.   Another three counties — all in southern West Virginia — were rated among the lowest ten percent for life expectancy in the U.S.

A number of counties in West Virginia experienced a reduction in life expectancy for both men and women.  For women the reduction in life expectancy was far more pronounced.  In Logan County life expectancy for women dropped by more than 2 1/2 years from 1989 to 1999. In Boone County life expectancy fell by almost 2 1/4 years between 1992 and 1999. In Taylor/Barbour counties life expectancy for women fell by 2 1/4 years between 1988 and 1999.

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West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. (2008) Early Deaths: West Virginians Have Some of the Shortest Life Expectancies in the United States.


2008 - Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia

This study compared data from a survey of 16,493 West Virginians with county-level coal production to investigate the relations between health and residential proximity to coal mining. The findings show that people living near coal mining operations are more likely to suffer from a variety of diseases including cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.

Hendryx, M. (2008)  ”Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia.” American Journal of Public Health, 98: 669-71.


2008 - Lung cancer mortality is elevated in coal-mining areas of Appalachia

This study tests whether residence in coal mining areas in Appalachia is a contributing factor to lung cancer.  After adjusting for factors like smoking, poverty, education, age, sex, race, etc., results show higher rates of lung cancer mortality from 2000 – 20004 in areas of heavy coal mining.  The authors state that “the set of socioeconomic and health inequalities characteristic of coal-mining areas of Appalachia highlights the need to develop more diverse, alternative local economies.”

Hendryx, M., K. O’Donnell and K. Horn. (2008) “Lung cancer mortality is elevated in coal-mining areas of Appalachia”. Lung Cancer. 62: 1-7.


2008 - Mortality Rates in Appalachian Coal Mining Counties: 24 Years Behind the Nation

Hendryx found that the mortality rate in coal mining areas is equal to the nationwide mortality rate 24 years ago:  “mortality rates for coal mining areas in 2004 are about the same as those for counties outside Appalachia from 1980.” After adjusting for a variety of factors (poverty, smoking, level of education, and race-related effects), coal mining areas of Appalachia still showed significantly higher age-adjusted mortality rates as compared to non-coal mining areas: “Appalachian coal mining areas were characterized by 1,607 excess annual deaths over the period 1999-2004.”

Hendryx, M. (2008) “Mortality rates in Appalachian coal mining counties: 24 years behind the nation”. Environmental Justice. 1, 1: 5-11.


2007 - Hospitalization Patterns Associated with Appalachian Coal Mining

In this study, the authors found that the volume of coal mining has a significant impact on hospitalization risk, particularly for hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The findings of this study showed the odds for hospitalization for COPD increased 1% for each 1462 tons of coal produced and the odds of hospitalization for hypertension increased 1% for every 1873 tons. Both of these conditions are related to exposure to particulates and other pollution associated with coal mining. The authors also point out other effects of the production and consumption of coal including air pollution, occupational hazards, and global climate change.

Hendryx, M., M. Ahern, and T. Nurkiewicz. (2011) “Hospitalization Patterns Associated with Appalachian Coal Mining.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 70: 2064-70.




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