Pitt public relations officials distributed more complete details of the new study, and the authors are scheduled to speak next month during a four-day ARIES meeting in Charleston.
Results of the Pitt study also will be included in the peer-reviewed proceedings of that ARIES meeting, which are being published in conjunction with the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.
Over the past five years, WVU researcher Michael Hendryx and various co-authors have published peer-reviewed studies examining possible links between mountaintop removal and various illnesses.
The work has linked health and coal-mining data to show, among other things, that residents near mining face a greater risk of cancer, birth defects and premature deaths. Environmental groups have not funded Hendryx, but those groups have seized on his findings to argue that mountaintop removal isn't just an issue about mining's effects on salamanders, mayflies or isolated mountain streams.
Buchanich and her colleagues say in their study, "The categories in which we found excesses [in mortality rates] are arguably heavily influenced by personal behaviors and risk factors, including heart disease and lung cancer.
"We were not able to control for personal risk factors in these analyses, including no control for confounding by smoking for causes of death highly affected by smoking, such as heart disease and respiratory system cancer," the new study said.
In an interview Wednesday, Hendryx noted that his research has controlled for a variety of other possible factors, including smoking, poverty and educational level, and still found increased mortality and illness rates in Appalachian mining communities.
Also, Hendryx noted, the Pitt researchers said that further study should be performed to look more closely at the amount of coal mined and the type of mining -- analyses that Hendryx and his co-authors have already done in their work.
"We have measured mining, generally, by looking at mining over all years covered by the study, and also examined not just presence/absence of mining but mining defined by amounts measured in tons, and by [mountaintop removal] versus other mining," Hendryx said. "We have found health effects to be strongest in areas where mining is heaviest, and in areas where [mountaintop removal] is practiced, and those distinctions will be lost in their paper."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.