The coal industry and the science world have been entangled since the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Something changed back then when people started demanding more from their government. They wanted to protect the environment and its valuable resources. Natural habitats started to mean more to people. Endangered species and human health concerns gained more attention than ever before. Scientists started conducting meaningful research on the effects of air quality and water pollution. Pollution and polluters started to become major headlines.
Decades later, the coal industry and the science world are still in front of the microphone. More often than not, they don’t see eye to eye. With the explosion of open source information and public domain, its no wonder social media has grabbed on to trending science topics and medical findings. But how do you know which research is valid? Just because you’ve read it on the Internet, doesn’t make it absolute and true. Which research claims should be taken seriously? Especially when scientists report and say conflicting things. How do you know what to believe?
Peer review is a system used by scientists to decide which research should be accepted and published. Experts in the same field of study evaluate the research in question. The experts who do the evaluation are not part of the editorial staff of the scientific journal or part of the original research staff. The process is set up to ensure any research accepted meets high standards of quality before it is published and within the scientific community. The peer review system helps ensure that no unproven research is published or accepted. In contrast, research that is not subjected to peer review relies on personal judgment from an editor and not scientific quality and distinction.
There is no avoiding the significance of coal and its impact on the local and global economy. Coal has provided energy and income for many generations. However, at what cost? To be fair, the coal industry has made great strides in its environmental and health impact since 1970, but still has a long way to go. An example of this is Mountaintop Removal Mining.
There are two types of mining in the coal business: surface mining and underground mining. One type in particular that has been getting a lot of press lately is Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR). MTR is a type of surface mining that involves the removal of a summit or ridge. Land is deforested and then explosives are used to blast away soil and rock to expose the coal underneath. In West Virginia, more than 500 mountaintops have been removed so far. In addition, 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been lost to mining refuse. Emissions from MTR have also been linked to air pollution. Acres of wildlife habitats are lost and watersheds have been polluted with soil and toxic compounds. According to the I Love Mountains organization website, the human cost of coal in Appalachia can be summarized below. The site has 21 peer-reviewed articles that discuss in detail the effects of MTR on humans, the environment, and economics of the community.
- People living near mountaintop mining have cancer rates of 14.4% compared to 9.4% for people elsewhere in Appalachia
- The rate of children born with birth defects is 42% higher in mountaintop removal mining areas
- The public health costs of pollution from coal operations in Appalachia amount to $75 billion a year
Use the following links to peer reviewed science articles to educate yourself even further about coal, in particular, mountaintop removal mining and the health and socioeconomic impacts it has had so far on those living nearby:
I Love Mountains www.ilovemountains.org
Coal River Mountain Watch www.crmw.net
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth www.kftc.org
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition www.ohvec.org
Appalachian Voices www.appvoices.org
The following is a short list of some of the peer-reviewed articles found on the I Love Mountains website:
2012 – Mountaintop Removal and Job Creation: Exploring the Relationship Using Spatial Regression
2011 – Cumulative impacts of mountaintop mining on an Appalachian watershed
2011 – Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context
2011 – Severe Occupational Pneumoconiosis Among West Virginia Coal Miners: 138 Cases of Progressive Massive Fibrosis Compensated Between 2000-2009
2011 – Health-Related Quality of Life Among Central Appalachian Residents in Mountaintop Mining Counties
2011 – The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003
2011 – Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal
2011 – Mountaintop Mining Valley Fills and Aquatic Ecosystems: A Scientific Primer on Impacts and Mitigation Approaches
2011 – Poverty and Mortality Disparities in Central Appalachia: Mountaintop Mining and Environmental Justice
2011 – Chronic Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Mountaintop Mining Areas of Central Appalachian States
2011 – Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and without Mountaintop Coal Mining
2010 – Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates
“The Human Cost- Study Summaries.” End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, n.d. 12 Apr 2014
“Surface Area Required to Replace Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining with Solar Power.” Land Art Generator Initiative, n.d. 11 Apr 2014. http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/1700