In the Leeco case, citizen group lawyers told U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell that "numerous peer-reviewed studies, appearing in highly regarded scientific journals, have linked coal mining in Appalachia -- especially large-scale surface mining -- with serious health problems.
"Those studies showed a positive correlation between the prevalence and intensity of mining and the prevalence of cancer, mortality from cancer, kidney disease, birth defects, mortality from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, impaired function due to health problems, and health problems and mortality in general," the lawyers said.
"Although nonmining socioeconomic factors contribute to health problems in Appalachia, they cannot explain these significant health disparities," the lawyers said. "Significant correlations between health problems and mining persist even after statistical adjustment for age, smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, poverty, education, availability of doctors and other risk factors."
Corps lawyers have not yet filed a response to the citizen groups.
During a public comment period for the Leeco "dredge-and-fill" Clean Water Act permit, citizen groups objected to the mining proposal and cited the scientific studies about mountaintop removal's health effects.
In a 65-page decision document that detailed its approval of the Leeco permit, the Corps of Engineers addressed those comments only by quoting from a company response to the citizen group comments.
Leeco, the corps said, dismissed the health studies by saying they "do not represent findings of causation, but only say that health problems 'may come from contact with streams or exposure to air toxins and dust.'"
Citizen group lawyers responded that the corps "failed to take the requisite 'hard look' at human health effects and instead based its finding of no significant impact on an incomplete analysis that ignored potential health effects."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.