The new study, "shows that places where the environment -- the earth, air and water -- has undergone the greatest disturbance from mining are also the places where birth defect rates are the highest," said Melissa Ahern of Washington State University, another of the study's authors.
Four other WVU researchers working on the study were Jamison Conley and Evan Fedorko from the Department of Community Medicine, and Alan Ducatman and Keith J. Zullig from the Department of Geology and Geography.
The study found health impacts from mountaintop removal mining were more pronounced between 2000 and 2003, than between 1996 and 1999.
In 2003, the federal Environmental Protection Agency released an "environmental impact statement" estimating more than 1.4 million acres of central Appalachian forests had already been destroyed or were sites of future mountaintop removal operations.
Telephone messages seeking comments were not returned by the West Virginia Coal Association or by Alpha Natural Resources, the Abingdon, Va.- based company that recently purchased Massey Energy, a major owner of mountaintop removal operations in Central Appalachia.
Many coalfield residents and community action groups opposed to end mountaintop removal mining previously warned of its health impacts, according to a news release sent out on Tuesday by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kentucky Environmental Foundation and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
"Mountaintop removal is not necessary; it destroys jobs, it destroys communities, and it is destroying human health," said Bo Webb, a Coal River Valley resident and anti-mountaintop removal activist.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.