Study finds toxins from surface mining
July 24, 2012 ·
An on-going study by U.S. Geological Survey is finding that people in the southern West Virginia coalfields live with significantly higher levels of toxins in the air and water compared to residents in the rest of the state.
After a year of testing air, water, and soil, researchers
are concluding that people in mountaintop mining communities in southern West
Virginia live in an environment with significant
chemical discrepancies from the rest of the state. This could suggest that
documented health problems in the region are linked, at least in part, to the
Research geo-chemist William Orem says the study is part of
a project that is funded by the USGS Energy Resources program. The project aims
to investigate energy resources and human health. Orem
says recent studies published about the effects of surface mining in West
Virginia attracted him to the area.
“We’ve observed that the water quality in the surface mining
area is affected by something. It’s definitely different from what we call
control sites—that is, sites where there is no surface mining. There’s higher
Ph, higher conductivity, to some degree higher organic compounds both in
surface water and in ground water. And there’s also higher levels of air
Orem says the review
will include epidemiological studies that look to confirm recent publications’
claims that surface mining adversely affects human health.
“We’ve looked so far at respiratory disease and looking at
statistics available from the [National Institute of Health] and other sources it does appear that in the counties
where there’s significant surface mining activity, there are higher rates of
respiratory disease compared to the rest of the state, even after you’ve
corrected for things like rates of smoking, obesity, rates of poverty, things
Orem says final
conclusions may not be drawn for another two to three years because it’s
important to consider all of the possible factors that contribute to the
“In addition to surface mining there’s underground mining.
There are also the coal processing plants, slurry impoundments, and probably
other sources of potential chemicals in the environment, too. Maybe even
agriculture in some areas and other types of anthropogenic activities that
might affect environmental quality.”
Orem says researchers are committed to studying the issue as
long as it takes to prove definitively whether or not health disparities are
linked to mining activities.