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Reps. Yarmuth, Slaughter Introduce Legislation to Study Health Consequences of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25) reintroduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, legislation that requires the first comprehensive federal study of the health dangers of mountaintop removal coal mining. The legislation places a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal mining permits while federal officials examine health consequences to surrounding communities.

“We cannot sit idly by as this harmful mining method destroys our environment, contaminates our water, and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of the American people,” said Congressman Yarmuth. “As scientific evidence continues to mount showing the harmful health effects of mountaintop removal, this legislation will provide those impacted with the protections they are owed. The American people deserve to be safe in their communities, and the ACHE Act helps to do just that.”

“Scientific evidence demonstrates that mountaintop removal mining puts Americans’ health at risk and heightens the risk of birth defects in babies born near mining sites. People in mining communities have the right to live and raise their families in a safe, healthy environment, and reckless, profit-driven mining practices that contaminate the air and the water are putting that in jeopardy, “ said Congresswoman Slaughter, a native of Harlan County, KY. “Until we can ensure that the health and safety of surrounding communities is not compromised, we should place a moratorium on new permitting for mountaintop removal mining.”

The ACHE Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive study to determine the health effects of mountaintop removal mining.

In October 2014, a team of scientists from West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, released the first ever study showing a direct connection between mountaintop removal coal mining dust and increased lung cancer rates. While there has long been anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion, we now have clear scientific evidence this process jeopardizes the health of coalfield residents.

In mountaintop removal mining operations, coal companies use heavy machinery and explosives to remove the upper levels of mountains to more easily access the coal seams beneath.  Mine operators dispose of the waste in adjacent valleys. Mine waste pollution—including dangerous heavy metals such as selenium and sulfate—often contaminates or buries waterways in the valleys.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mountaintop removal mining operations have buried or polluted nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams. These are primary water sources for hundreds of families and entire communities.

Mountaintop removal mining is largely mechanized and requires far fewer miners than traditional underground mining. In Kentucky, the increase in mountaintop removal mining operations has coincided with a 60 percent decline in the number of miners—from 47,000 to approximately 18,000—since the practice became legal 38 years ago, according to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy.