Webb and other residents contacted Hendryx and together they designed a door-to-door survey to try to investigate concerns of increased cancer rates in the area.
Students from area colleges volunteered to perform the interviews during their spring breaks. Interviews were also conducted in Pocahontas County, to provide a control group in an area with no mountaintop removal for comparison to the Boone and Raleigh results.
The study tried to account for some other potential influences on cancer, such as family history, gender, age, smoking and occupational exposures. But it did not account for obesity, and researchers said they were limited by trying to reduce the time necessary to do the interviews and complete the survey.
"There were concerns express by community partners that if the time spent per survey was prolonged, such that fewer surveys could be completed per day and more time had to be spent in Coal River to collect and adequate sample size, word about the survey taking place would reach the coal industry, and community residents would be instructed or pressured by industry representative not take part," the study said.
The study also did not attempt to count cancer deaths, meaning that some fatal cancers previously found at high rates in the area, such as lung cancer, were not represented in the results.
Residents interviewed in the Boone-Raleigh area reported an overall cancer rate of 14 percent, compared to a rate of 9 percent in Pocahontas County. After the results were adjusted for age, gender, smoking, occupational exposure, or family cancer history, the odds of having cancer were twice as high in the Coal River Valley area, the study said.
The National Cancer Institute reports a nationwide cancer rate of about 4 percent, while a West Virginia state report listed a statewide rate of 10 percent.
Hendryx wrote that if the rates found in the Coal River study were translated across the Appalachian region, it would result in an additional 60,000 people with cancer in communities where mountaintop removal is performed.
"Although these projections are uncertain, they illustrate the large numbers of people who are potentially impacted by mountaintop mining environments," the study said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.