The findings have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals, but some results have been delivered at academic conferences, as part of the normal scientific review process.
In the latest paper, USGS researchers gathered samples of particular matter deposited in communities near mountaintop removal operations and compared the chemical composition to similar material collected in other Southern West Virginia locations. They found higher levels of certain elements that indicate the dust is coming from the overburden, or the rock removed to get at the coal at nearby mining operations.
"It's not too surprising, since they blow up rocks to get at the coal," said USGS research geologist Allan Kolker, who delivered a paper on the results at a conference last month in Montreal.
In one related paper, WVU researchers reported that particulate matter collected from mountaintop removal communities was generally of a size that was more likely to prompt more of it to be deposited in human lungs than similar dust sampled from non-mining communities.
"These preliminary findings, along with continued sampling, will fill in gaps in the chain of causation by associating exposure and disease directly," WVU researcher Laura Esch said in a summary presented at an academic conference last October.
In another project, WVU researchers exposed laboratory rats to dust from mountaintop removal mining communities and found that the exposure appears to affect the diameter of blood vessels, which could in turn reduce blood flow.
"Exposure to particulates from mountaintop mining impairs normal function in blood vessels," said study author Travis Knuckles of WVU's Department of Community Medicine.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.