But in his new study, Hendryx reports that poverty rates in mountaintop removal communities were "significantly higher in every year 2000-2007 compared to other areas."
"This was true for both total and child poverty rates, and when the comparisons were based on other mining or on other Appalachian areas," Hendryx reported. "Age-adjusted mortality rates were also significantly higher every year 2000-2007 in [mountaintop removal] areas for both comparisons."
Hendryx wrote that his study does not attempt to determine whether mountaintop removal causes poverty, though he says the effects of mining "on such factors as depressed property values, employment declines and volatility, and foregone alternative economic opportunities" have been identified by other scholars.
"Rather, the study establishes the simple fact that MTM [mountaintop mining] areas have higher poverty," Hendryx wrote. "Thus, residents of these areas are faced with the combined risks of differential exposures to potential environmental hazards in the context of socioeconomic vulnerability."
Hendryx acknowledges that, "biological mechanisms by which pollution from MTM may impact health are not assessed in this study, and in general are poorly understood.
"Given the evidence for impaired air and water quality involving multiple chemicals (e.g., explosive chemicals, diesel fuels, silica, coal itself and its trace elements), and the evidence for health disparities that include multiple disease states including cancer, heart disease, lung disease and kidney disease, it may be that exposure effects vary across settings," he wrote. "One community may be faced with toxic dust from explosives and overburden at a MTM site, while another may experience contaminated water from coal processing or mine drainage. It remains an important next research step to identify personal levels of exposures, doses and resulting biological impacts."
Hendryx noted that the National Institutes of Health has targeted Appalachia as a priority area for reducing and eliminating poverty and health disparities in the United States.
"For these efforts to succeed, we will need to address both socioeconomic and potential environmental risks faced by area residents," Hendryx wrote.
"Even in the face of uncertainty regarding individual-level environmental exposures, prudent and reasonable efforts to reduce environmental risks can include stricter monitoring and enforcement of air and water quality standards, and restrictions on MTM practices to ensure that they occur only when adequate environmental quality standards can be met during mining and post-mining reclamation activities," Hendryx wrote. "Efforts to reduce poverty can include economic diversification and job creation programs; investments in K-12, vocational, college, and adult education; and modifications to tax structure to divert public dollars to geographic areas of greatest need.
"These efforts become even more important when we consider that coal reserves in central Appalachia are expected to peak and production to enter permanent decline within the next few years, further reducing coal's economic contributions to the region."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.