RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A new study out of coal-rich West Virginia found that the fossil fuel isn’t just providing us with electricity, it’s sickening and killing people who live in Appalachia. The study, published in the July-August issue of the journal Public Health Reports, found that the health problems in coal-mining areas of Appalachia far outweigh any economic boost the industry brings to the region.
“If we were serious about developing a strong economy, we’d develop an economy not dependent on coal,” says Michael Hendryx, PhD, associate director of the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research in WVU’s department of community medicine. “Those who are falling ill and dying young are not just the coal miners. Everyone who lives near the mines or processing plants or transportation centers is affected by chronic socioeconomic weakness that takes a toll in longevity and health.”
THE DETAILS: Researchers investigated national mortality rates for years 1979 to 2005, comparing groups from four types of areas: counties in Appalachia with above-average coal mining, Appalachian counties with below-average coal mining, Appalachia counties with no mining, and other counties throughout the country. They found that those living in the areas with the most coal-mining operations had the highest death rates, lowest household income, lowest level of education, and highest unemployment rates when compared to the other counties.
They also found that coal mining brought $8 billion in economic impacts to the region, where mountaintop-coal-removal methods are often used, but estimated that the costs of shortened life spans associated with coal operations ranged from nearly $17 billion to $84 billion. When held up against comparable areas around the nation, coal-mining areas in Appalachia showed nearly 11,000 more deaths each year. About 2,300 of them were directly related to air and water pollution worsened by mining.