Social Issues

OSMRE to fund mountaintop removal health study

The federal agency in charge of mining reclamation and enforcement is funding an independent study of existing research concerning the potential health risks of living near a mountaintop coal mine site in Central Appalachia.

The $1 million study, which will be conducted by the National Academy of Science, will take two years and is funded by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). The study comes at the request of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which in 2015 asked for the study after mounting pressure from health professionals to halt new mountaintop removal coal mining permits.

Environmental and health organizations rallied in March 2016 to demand that no new permits be issued until a federal study was completed to determine if mountaintop removal poses a public health risk.

“This kind of project represents the best of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which was signed into law 39 years ago … West Virginia asked us in the federal government for help. We wanted to do the best we could for the people, so we brought the National Academy of Science on board because they are one of the world’s most reputable scientific organizations,” said Joe Pizarchik, director of the OSMRE.

Mountaintop removal mining is when heavy machinery and explosives are used to take off the upper levels of a mountain to extract the coal seams beneath.

Mountaintop removal has gained Washington’s attention. A bill, Appalachian Community Health Emergency, was reintroduced in the House of Representatives, which would place a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal mining permits while federal officials look into the health risks to neighboring communities.

Nearly two years ago, the first-ever study connecting mountaintop removal dust to lung cancer was released by West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. Other illnesses caused by mountaintop removal, according to various studies, include birth defects and heart disease.

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