CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Researchers found "significantly higher" rates of birth defects in areas with mountaintop removal mines than in non-mining regions in central Appalachia, according to a study released Tuesday.
The study "offers one of the first indications that health problems are disproportionately concentrated specifically in [mountaintop removal] areas. It's significant not only to people who live in coalfields but to policymakers as well," said Michael Hendryx, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University.
Hendryx is one of the authors of the study, titled "The Association between Mountaintop Mining and Birth Defects among Live Births in Central Appalachia, 1996-2003."
"This study extends previous research on low birth weight and on adult morbidity and mortality in coal mining areas," Hendryx said.
Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study was based on more than 1.8 million live birth records between 1996 and 2003.
The study used statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics from four central Appalachian states: West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.
The study found six different kinds of health problems occurred more frequently in areas near mountaintop removal mines than in non-mining areas: circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and problems from "other" types of defects.
The study also noted, "Elevated birth defect rates are partly a function of socioeconomic disadvantage, but remain elevated after controlling for those risks. Both socioeconomic and environmental influences in mountaintop mining areas may be contributing factors."