CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cancer rates among residents near the Coal River Valley's mountaintop removal operations are double those of residents in non-mining areas of Appalachia, according to the latest study of strip-mining possible impacts on public health.
West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx co-authored the new paper, which is based on door-to-door interviews with nearly 800 residents along the Coal River from Seth to Rock Creek.
"The odds for reporting cancer were twice as high in the mountaintop mining environment compared to the non-mining environment in ways not explained by the age, sex, smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history," Hendryx wrote.
The study, published in the Journal of Community Health, does not say mountaintop removal caused the increased cancer rates. But it says more research is needed to examine mining pollution and potential impacts on people who live near mountaintop removal mines.
"The results of this study and others previously cited on coal mining populations demonstrate that health disparities are concentrated in mountaintop mining areas of the region," the study said. "Efforts to reduce cancer and other health disparities in Appalachia must focus on mountaintop mining portions of the region."
Hendryx and a collection of colleagues have published a series of papers examining possible links between mountaintop removal and various illnesses, including a study last month that found higher rates of birth defects in communities near mining operations.
Collectively, the papers have given weight to citizen complaints about coal's impact on public health. Anti-mountaintop removal activists point to the research to show that the issue isn't just about mining effects on salamanders, mayflies or isolated mountain streams.
Obama administration officials have said they are concerned about the findings of the public health studies, and cited the findings in supporting a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency crackdown on mountaintop removal permit practices.
Mining industry groups have disputed the findings of the studies, and coalfield political leaders have mostly tried to ignore them. On Wednesday, Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., refused requests for interviews about the growing body of research about mining and public health impacts.
Among the authors listed for the new paper was Bo Webb, a Coal River resident and activist who has long complained that he sees mining causing illnesses among his neighbors.