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Congressman John Yarmuth

Representing the 3rd Congressional District of Kentucky

Scientists: Mountaintop Removal Dust Promotes Lung Cancer

October 17, 2014
Press Release

For the first time, scientists have shown a direct connection between mountaintop removal coal mining dust and cancer. The team of scientists, mainly from West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Center for Cardiovascular and Respiratory Science, posted the peer-reviewed study “Appalachian Mountaintop Mining Particulate Matter Induces Neoplastic Transformation of Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells and Promotes Tumor Formation” on Oct. 14. The report is accepted for publication in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology. The report prompted renewed calls for passage of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act.

Dr. Michael Hendryx, now at Indiana University’s School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, said "This study shows that dust collected from MTR [mountaintop removal] communities promotes lung cancer.  Previous studies have shown that people who live in these communities have higher lung cancer rates not due just to smoking, but with this study we now have solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near MTR sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells."

“We have clear scientific evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining jeopardizes the health of coalfield residents, and today’s study is more proof that we can no longer ignore the dangerous impact of this destructive practice,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3), who introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, along with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25), this Congress. “No one should have to breathe the dirty air or drink the polluted water in mountaintop removal communities, but as long as we allow this public health hazard to continue, we are forcing the residents of Appalachia to do exactly that.”

"We've known for a long time that mountain top removal mining has a deleterious impact on human health and this study is yet another heartbreaking reminder," Rep. Slaughter said. "We shouldn't have to wait for more studies or sickened communities before we do something about it - we need to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act now. I thank Bo Webb at the ACHE Campaign for his tireless work to raise awareness of the negative health impacts of MTR mining and my colleague John Yarmuth for carrying the ACHE Act with me in Congress."

Coal River Mountain Watch board member Lisa Henderson Snodgrass said, “This study validates our long-held suspicions, but the fact remains that my mom is still dead. My friends are still dead. The mountains are blown to pieces, the communities have been scattered, and the few of us who have stayed and tried to save what is left are facing death from the polluted air. The only way to fix this, the only justice we can be given, is the passage of the ACHE Act.” Snodgrass’s mother, Goldman Environmental Prize winner and Coal River Mountain Watch executive director Julia “Judy” Bonds, died of cancer in 2011.

Bo Webb, ACHE campaign coordinator, said, “Our politicians cannot ignore or deny this report.  Mountaintop removal blasting dust promotes lung cancer. The report ‘supports prudent adoption of prevention strategies and exposure control,’ so Congress urgently needs to protect public health by passing the ACHE Act immediately.  Short of that, protective respirators should be provided to every man, woman, and child living near mountaintop mining."

Mountaintop removal involves the clear-cutting of mountain forests and then blasting the layers of rock over the coal. Coal companies detonate over five million pounds of explosives, the equivalent of over 4,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles, per day in the region. Used in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia, the process has eliminated over a million acres of the Appalachian Mountains. Cancer, lung disease, heart disease, birth defects, and other illnesses are alarmingly higher in communities near mountaintop removal sites.

The Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, HR 526, would halt new or enlarged mountaintop removal permits unless and until the federal government completes a definitive health study determining that the process does not harm residents’ health.


Study abstract: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es504263u

Full report (free registration required): http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es504263u

Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) campaign: http://acheact.org

ACHE Act summary and text: http://acheact.org (“Bill Summary”)