Mountaintop Mining Linked To Birth Defects

Not surprisingly, there is a spike in <"">birth defect rates in and near those central Appalachian areas in which mountaintop removal coal mining takes place.

The emerging study, which revealed this data, was published in the journal, Environmental Research, and was co-authored by Michael Hendryx, an associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine, West Virginia University, and director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center in Morgantown, said The Post-Gazette.

The study relied on National Center for Health Statistics birth defect records from 1996 through 2003 over four states. The research revealed, said The Post-Gazette, that there were much higher rates for six of the seven birth defects studied in mountaintop mining areas. The specific birth defects were not named.

The study’s release, which took place in Washington, D.C. corresponds with the United States House of Representatives’ review of legislation, HR 2018. The legislation is meant to mitigate federal Clean Water Act provisions that protect “stream quality” and release those waters to state regulation, the Post-Gazette pointed out.

Mountaintop mining actually involves the environmentally devastating process of removing the mountaintop, what Mountain Justice described as “strip mining on steroids.” The process destroys ecosystems in what are considered “biologically diverse temperate forests,” leaving barren mountainscapes in its wake. Forests are cut down and wildlife and botanical life are destroyed, noted Mountain Justice. More often than not, it is impossible to return the environment to its pre-mining state.

This type of mining calls for a process called “coal washing” that involves many thousands of gallons of contaminated water or slurry—Mountain Justice pointed out that this contaminated liquid resembles black sludge. This slurry contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals. One of the issues is that, when slurry ponds break, huge sludge rivers are released killing and injuring people and wildlife and destroying homes, vehicles, and whatever environment is in its path, not to mention the lifelong adverse effects known to be associated with toxins and heavy metals; for instance, an array of cancers.

Also slurry impoundments—those facilities that house dangerous sludge—need the use of cancer causing chemicals to wash the coal for release to market and contain much of what coal contains: Arsenic and mercury.

Mountain Justice also explained that, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, mountaintop mining’s destruction of West Virginia’s large contiguous forests decimates important key nesting areas for neo-tropical migrant bird populations. This results in significant reductions in migratory bird populations important to the northeastern United States.

According to Mountain Justice, in excess of “1,200 miles of streams have been buried and destroyed and countless mountains and ridge tops have been blown up … the Bush administration has altered laws to encourage and accelerate the destruction.”

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