Every year on Valentine’s Day, the group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth gathers at the capitol to protest mountaintop removal, a coal mining method that involves blasting whole mountain tops to get to coal seams. This year they had more support for their cause in the form of a statistical study.
For years, critics of mountaintop removal have argued that this method of coal mining pollutes water and destroys the environment. Though the negative effects of mountaintop removal are touted by many in the states of Kentucky and West Virginia (where mountaintop removal is most prevalent), there has been a shortage of substantial empirical data to back up their claims; until now.
A recent study done by Dr. Michael Hendryx, director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center at West Virginia University, has gathered data to show that there are at least 60,000 cases of cancer in Appalachia that are linked to strip mining and mountaintop removal.
By going door-to-door and asking people whether they’ve been diagnosed with the disease, Dr. Hendryx and his assistants were able to extrapolate that people living in areas near mountaintop removal sites were twice as likely to have a diagnosis compared to those who did not live near mining areas. His analysis controlled for other risk factors including age, smoking, work history and family history of cancer.
In reaction to this study, protesters at the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth rally urged legislators to pass House Bill 231, the Stream Saver Bill, which would finally prohibit dumping mine wastes into Kentucky streams and waterways.
House Bill 167, the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, was also being pushed by supporters at the protest. House Bill 167 would work to encourage conservation and the use of renewable energy sources. Those for passing the bill say it could create 26,000 jobs for the state of Kentucky.
In response to the rally, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said that he acknowledged the anti-mountaintop removal movement, but that he continues to believe that the method is an environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient way to mine coal. He says he will continue to support mountaintop removal while also protecting the mountains in the process.
There were 1,300 people at the Valentine’s Day rally this year. In response to Dr. Hendryx’s findings, fifty colorful pinwheels were placed in a “mountain” built by Styrofoam and wood. Each pinwheel represented an actual person who had cancer caused by coal mining. After the rally, a few members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth carried the mountain to Governor Steve Beshear’s office.
About the Author: Jillian Lewis works as an environmental educator and also owns the website www.ForestryDegree.net. She enjoys writing, hiking and mountain climbing.