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
  • 4-20 Shoulders-B.jpg Eggs fly at park

    Easter has probably never been so “eggstravagant” in Richmond as it was Saturday during the annual Eggstravaganza in Irvine-McDowell Park.
    For the first time, thousands of eggs were dropped, appropriately by an “eggbeater”-type helicopter, in addition to thousands of eggs already scattered on the grass below. Together, they numbered about 10,000, according to Erin Moore, Richmond Parks and Recreation director.

    April 20, 2014 12 Photos

  • City awaits funds for Water Street project

    Richmond city officials are still awaiting word on grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Water Street drainage project.
    However, Mayor Jim Barnes said he is confident the money should come through by May 1.

    April 20, 2014

  • Kitcarson1.jpg Elementary schools built in ‘60s getting upgrades

    Renovation of three Madison County elementary schools built in Richmond during the 1960s will start this summer.
    The county school board voted Thursday to continue with the second phase of state paperwork required for the projects.
    With a target completion date of August 2015, renovations and alterations at Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and White Hall elementary schools are estimated to cost almost $12 million.

    April 20, 2014 9 Photos

  • KY 52 link to I-75 to be discussed May 13

    While a proposed link from Nicholasville to Exit 95 on Interstate 75 north of Richmond has garnered attention and organized opposition, the state also is developing plans to link I-75 to another community to the west.

    April 20, 2014

  • May 30 last school day for students

    After 16 snows days and two weather delays this winter, the Madison County School Board decided Thursday to end the school year on Friday, May 30.

    April 19, 2014

  • 4-19 TechExtra1.jpg Students showcase projects in Technology Extravaganza

    Madison County School students showed off just how tech savvy they can be during the district’s sixth annual Technology Extravaganza on Thursday at Madison Central High School. After the showcase, more than 350 students were honored for their work.

    April 19, 2014 7 Photos

  • 4-19 SchoolBoardJesseWard.jpg Ward honored for service; tech center named after him

    Retired Madison County educator Jesse Ward was recognized Thursday for his many years of service. To honor him, Superintendent Elmer Thomas announced the board’s decision to rename the district’s technology training center on North Second Street in Richmond the Jesse P. Ward Technology and Training Center.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-19 Brian Smith.jpg Berea man indicted on 24 child porn counts

    A Madison grand jury has indicted a Berea man on 24 counts related to child pornography.

    Brian J. Smith, 26, is charged with four counts of distribution and 20 counts of possession of matter portraying sexual performances by a minor.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-19 Gregory Powell.jpg Police apprehend burglary suspect

    An observant witness was able to help Richmond police catch a burglary suspect shortly after a break-in Thursday afternoon on Savanna Drive off Berea Road.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-18 PackTrack1a.jpg Walkers, runners of every age ‘Pack the Track’

    Waco Elementary and Model Laboratory schools students raised more than $8,000 (and counting) for the annual Pack the Track event at Eastern Kentucky University’s Tom Samuels Track Thursday, said Kim DeCoste of the Madison County Diabetes Coalition.

    April 18, 2014 14 Photos

AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

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

Should Richmond rezone the southwest corner of Main Street and Tates Creek Avenue to B-1 (Neighborhood Business) with restrictions to allow construction of a financial services office?

Yes
No
     View Results