Posted on behalf of Katherine Rowland.
In addition to its brutal impact on the physical environment, mountain-top mining exacts a weighty toll on human health and socioeconomic well-being, according to a review of recent studies.
An interactive map entitled ‘The Human Cost of Coal’ correlates increased mortality, elevated rates of birth defects and chronic disease, and greater poverty with the areas closest to Appalachian mountain-top mining sites.
Based on census data, government reports and 21 peer-reviewed studies published between 2007 and 2011, the map, created by the non-profit association Alliance for Appalachia, shows a persistent pattern in reduced health and quality of life. Key findings of the research include a 42% rise in birth defects and a 5% increase in cancer morbidity in mountain-top removal sites compared with national averages. The data also underscore the economic burden, such as soaring public-health expenditure and the cost of clean-up and regeneration efforts.
The controversial practice of mountain-top mining involves clear-cutting forests and deploying explosives to access coal contained within the rock. The resulting waste, which includes toxic substances such as selenium, heavy metals and sulphates, can contaminate local freshwater sources and imperil the health of wildlife.
The creators of the map hope that it will lend further support to initiatives to end mountain-top removal activities in Appalachia. To date, more than 500 mountain tops have been levelled, and more than 3,200 kilometres of streams contaminated, the researchers say.