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WVU study links MTR to high-risk air quality in mining towns

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new study reports finding much larger levels of tiny -- but potentially dangerous -- particles of air pollution near mountaintop removal mining operations than in non-mining communities.

The study by researchers working at West Virginia University is the latest in a long series of papers to raise questions about the public-health impact of large-scale surface coal mining in Appalachia.

The paper was published online Wednesday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

Researchers compared the levels of various sizes of air-pollution particles, including very small "ultra-fine particles," in two communities near mining operations to a third community, with no coal mining.

They found that concentrations of the smallest particles and the potential for those particles to lodge in human lungs "were significantly greater around mining areas compared with non-mining areas," the study said.

The study said the results demonstrate "elevated risks to humans" and that the greater lung dose "was correlated with elevated disease rates in the West Virginia mining areas.

"Number concentrations at the mining areas were comparable to a previously documented urban area where number concentration was associated with respiratory and cardiovascular disease," the study said.

In recent years, former WVU researcher Michael Hendryx -- a co-author of the new paper -- and others have published a series of peer-reviewed studies examining possible links between mountaintop removal and various illnesses.

The work has linked health and coal-mining data to show, among other things, that residents living near mountaintop removal mines face a greater risk of cancer, birth defects and premature deaths.

Continuing research, such as the new study published this week, is trying to examine actual pollution levels near mining sites and in mining communities, to provide more answers about the potential impact.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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