The Richmond Register

Local News

March 16, 2013

Report: Health risks high for mountaintop removal areas

Bissett, Stumbo dispute findings of WVU professor

FRANKFORT — FRANKFORT - People who live near mountaintop removal mining sites in Floyd County have significantly higher cancer death rates and suffer a higher incidence of other diseases than residents in other Kentucky Appalachian counties where mountaintop removal doesn’t occur.

That’s the conclusion of a study by Michael Hendryx, a professor in West Virginia University's School of Public Health, who has done similar research in West Virginia. The report was published in The Journal of Rural Health.

The president of the Kentucky Coal Association, Bill Bissett, and Kentucky’s Speaker of the House, Greg Stumbo, who is from Floyd County, scoffed at the methodology and conclusions of the report.

“I don’t believe that stuff for a minute,” said Stumbo. “I’ve lived there all my life. There are no pollutants in the air. When you blow up something, it’s just dust for a little while and that’s the end of it. It’s not like the sky is blackened every day.”

Hendryx’s study disputes that, indicating small particulate matter such as ammonium nitrate, silica and benzene, which have been linked to health problems, are present in the air near mountaintop removal sites. Streams and ground water are polluted.

Bev May, a nurse practitioner who lives along Wilson Creek in Floyd County where coal trucks daily pass her house, said it doesn’t require a science degree to realize coal dust, which covers houses and yards, is harmful.

May said the dust creates tiny, airborne particulate matter, too small to be trapped by cilia, very small hairs in the respiratory system which catch larger particles and expel them through mucus. Instead, the tiny particles are deposited directly into lung tissue and cause serious health problems.

“There are places in Floyd County where you have to drive through the dust every time you go through there because the coal trucks are dragging the dust and mud off the mine site,” May said. “I’m probably fine, but what about that child with asthma or the elderly person with COPD? That can’t be good for them.”

Floyd County is also home to Ricky Handshoe, whose problems with water pollution from adjacent mountaintop removal sites have been chronicled by CNHI News.

Handshoe has health concerns about two mine-polluted streams on his property. He claims when a neighbor used water from Raccoon Creek to fill a stocking fish pond, “It boiled the fish alive.”

“We have to wonder what harm the pollution is doing to our health,” said Handshoe who continues to undergo medical testing to determine the cause of numbness in his fingertips and discoloration and striation of his fingernails.

Residents of the three counties were interviewed by college students; the study factored out other health risks such as smoking, occupational exposure of miners, obesity, education, income and age.

Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 952 adults 18 years of age or older who were divided into two groups: those living in Floyd County and another group living in Rowan and Elliott counties where there is no mountaintop removal and whose combined populations and socio-economic profiles are similar to those of Floyd County.

The study revealed there is a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer in Floyd County over the past five years than for residents of Elliott and Rowan counties; a 56 percent higher incidence of lifetime asthma; and dramatically higher incidences of COPD and hypertension.

Those differences can’t be explained by conventional risk behaviors like smoking or education or obesity, Hendryx said in a telephone interview.

Stumbo zeroed in on the higher rates of education attainment and per capita income in Rowan County, home to Morehead State University.

“Everybody in the world knows that you can take a population that is less well educated and that has a lower per capita income and you’ll see their health habits are (worse) and hence their rates of diseases are attributable to those two things,” he said.

“Over 90 percent of (Floyd County) has treated water, so what caused this?” Stumbo asked. “It’s not the air; it’s not drinking the water. So what would be the cause if you believe there is some sort of relationship?”

Hendryx compared those sorts of questions to those who once questioned the dangers of smoking, citing a lack of direct cause-effect evidence.

“You see it time and again, you see the environment is impaired and you see the people are sick and yet people that like to support mining will deny it and try to say we don’t really know, it’s not proven,” said Hendryx. “Well, what do you want? And what is it if it’s not mining?

“I’m a rational person. To me, if you have evidence like this, that there’s a problem, then something should be done about it,” Hendryx continued. “I can’t pinpoint a particular contaminant or chemical. But even if we don’t know exactly what is causing it, the conclusion that there are health problems is undeniable – undeniable.”

Bissett, head of the coal association, questioned Hendryx’s methodology and motivation.

“While Dr. Hendryx is not a medical doctor, he is a researcher who begins his research with a bias against coal and its extraction,” Bissett said in an email response to questions. “This bias is further revealed through his coordination with and the support of anti-coal groups such as the KFTC. In the past, Hendryx has used information gained through telephone interviews instead of medical records or actual examinations.”

Hendryx said no outside environmental groups such as the Sierra Club or KFTC funds his research and he began his studies with no bias about coal. Data for the Kentucky study were collected from personal, face-to-face interviews.

When he moved to West Virginia in 2006, Hendryx heard health concerns from coal field residents and sought existing research on the issue. When he couldn’t find any, he decided to do his own.

A Public Health Report he co-authored in 2009 found societal and health costs of coal mining in the central Appalachian region are roughly five times the economic benefits – about $42 billion in costs associated with premature deaths to about $8 billion in direct and indirect economic benefits.

Hendryx is frustrated when his research is greeted with inaction by public policymakers.

“It’s only an economic benefit to a small number of people who profit from it and for the politicians who get re-elected from it,” Hendryx said.

“I think we know enough about this to act upon it – to eliminate mountaintop removal. The impact it has on health is not worth the gains.”

1
Text Only
Local News
  • 4-17 4Hfieldday1.jpg 4-H Environmental Field Day

    Madison County fourth-graders participated in several hands-on activities Tuesday and Wednesday during the annual 4-H Environmental Field Day at the county fairgrounds.

    April 16, 2014 8 Photos

  • Hearing delayed on West Main zone change

    Signs giving notice of a public hearing on a proposed zone change at the corner of West Main Street and Tates Creek Avenue were not posted in time for the Richmond Planning Commission to scheduled a public hearing for its April 24 business session.

    April 16, 2014

  • Berea mulls break with Kentucky Utilities

    The city of Berea is considering whether to extend its contract with Kentucky Utilities or to shop around for another electricity provider.

    April 16, 2014

  • 4-17 Melissa Lear.jpg BPD charge two in Richmond heroin-trafficking case

    Berea police arrested two women April 10 in a Richmond home in connection with heroin possession and trafficking.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-17 MuseVisit4.jpg Theater students hear actor, Berea alum Muse Watson

    “I killed about eight or nine kids, about your age,” actor Muse Watson joked as a room full of high schoolers erupted in laughter Wednesday at Madison Southern High School.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • Legislature passes road-spending plan

    Kentucky House and Senate lawmakers agreed Tuesday to a $4.1 billion road-spending plan on the legislature’s final day, avoiding an expensive special session.
    The plan includes $5.2 billion worth of projects throughout the state. But as much as 25 percent of that money will not be spent. Lawmakers said they would like to include a cushion in case some projects are delayed because of environmental concerns or problems acquiring land.

    April 16, 2014

  • 4-16 CMMShealthfair5.jpg Health fairs cover contemporary teenage topics

    Berea Community High School health students coordinated their first all-day health fair in November that was catered to elementary students.

    But their spring fair Monday handled more mature issues that targeted the middle and high school crowd, said health teacher Cathy Jones.

    April 16, 2014 13 Photos

  • 4-16 Lisa Begley.jpg Police: Woman drove through storage business gate

    Richmond police arrested a Lexington woman Monday night after the property manager at Main Street Storage said she repeatedly drove her vehicle into a gate and fence at the 455 E. Main St. business.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local jobless rate for 2013 same as 2012

    Madison was one of 12 Kentucky counties with a 2013 jobless rate unchanged from the previous year, according to statistics released Tuesday.

    Still, only four counties – Woodford, 6.1; Fayette and Oldham, 6.5; and Scott, 6.7 – had jobless rates better than Madison’s 6.8 percent.

    April 16, 2014

  • Danville officials table fairness ordinance

    City officials in Danville have tabled an anti-discrimination proposal.
    The Advocate-Messenger reports that the move on Monday came after questions were raised about its legality and suggestions were made for changes.

    April 15, 2014

AP Video
Disbanding Muslim Surveillance Draws Praise Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Boston Bomb Scare Defendant Appears in Court Pistorius Trial: Adjourned Until May 5 Diaz Gets Physical for New Comedy Raw: Ferry Sinks Off South Korean Coast Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast Freeze Leaves Florida Panhandle With Dead Trees At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict? Raw: Fatal Ferry Boat Accident Suspicious Bags Found Near Marathon Finish Line Boston Marks the 1st Anniversary of Bombing NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program 8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Sex Offenders Arrested in Slayings of CA Women India's Transgenders Celebrate Historic Ruling Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should the Richmond City Commission stop rezoning property to allow construction of apartments?

Yes.
No
     View Results