Winds of Change Newsletter, December 2011 See sidebar for table of contents
The Dragon in the Mountains
by Dan Doyle
Dragons roam the hills of southern West Virginia. They ravish the land and devour the people.
Breathing the fire of dynamite, they hurl boulders into the valleys below, damming up streams and poisoning the water. Jean Ritchie of Perry County Kentucky sang of their havoc: "Black waters, black waters, run down through my land."
The dragons have come to Fayette County. They roam and roar and devour the ridges above Loup Creek, especially along Taylor Branch, Open Fork, Glenco Hollow, and Beards Fork.
The "dragon" of course is man-made. The dragons are the giant dozers and loaders and rock trucks and serpentine conveyors and awesome explosions, far worse than any dragon imagined by the peasants of Europe or China in the Middle Ages. Our dragon is the operations of Frasure Creek Mining Company.
A growing series of scientific studies demonstrate the harmful health impacts of massive surface mining like what is going on here:
YIn April 2010, Hitt and Hendryx demonstrated an association between cancer deaths and stream pollution caused by coal mining.
YIn May 2011, Zulig and Hendryx demonstrated worse health-related quality of life for residents living in mountaintop mining communities.
YAlso in May 2011, Ahern, Hendryx, and co-authors published evidence that birth defects are 26 percent higher in Appalachian counties with mountaintop mining than those with no mining.
Dr. Michael Hendryx is a researcher with the Department of Community Medicine at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
No surprise that the coal industry would like to discredit or silence his research. The Charleston Gazette (October 8, 2011) ran a front-page story that the coal industry is pressuring WVU to distance itself from this research.
The evidence that massive surface mining has harmful health effects for surrounding communities is strong and compelling.
What we don’t know is who exactly is being affected, by what sickness, and where and when. And just like the working coal miner who knows his breathing is getting worse from the dust, community residents can’t just quit their jobs and move away.
Often, they have no other job and nowhere else to go. They resign themselves to work on and live and die where they are.
The Southern Appalachia Labor School (SALS) has launched an environmental health project to identify actual and potential sicknesses in our region caused by massive surface mining.
Andrew Munn, with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Doctor Dan Doyle of Fayetteville are working together on this project.
What is needed is a facility that combines medical care with legal advice for community residents who believe they are suffering ill effects from the blasting, dust, water pollution, and noise of surface mining.
If you suspect that you or a family member has such a problem call Andrew Munn at (304) 574-1684 or Jane Doe at (304) 779-2280.