Synopsis: Personal and Family Health in Rural Areas of Kentucky With and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining

Main Points:

  1. Surface water emerging from MTM mining sites, or present in ground water proximate to mining, is characterized by elevated sulfates, iron, manganese, arsenic, selenium, hydrogen sulfide, lead, magnesium, calcium, and aluminum; pollutants severely damage aquatic stream life and persist for decades after mining at a particular site ceases.
  2. Airborne particulate matter around surface mining operations includes elevated levels of ammonium nitrate, silica, sulfur compounds, metals, benzene, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and nitrogen dioxide.
  3. In 2010 over 1.5 million tons of coal were extracted from Floyd county, including over 1 million tons from surface mining operations.
  4. In the entire mining area of eastern Kentucky, there was a total of 68 million tons mined in 2010 including over 33 million tons from surface mines.
  5. Community members in mining communities are 1.71 times more likely to report respiratory symptoms, 1.44 times more likely to report cardiovascular symptoms, 1.69 times more likely to report skin symptoms, 1.67 times more likely to report gastrointestinal symptoms, 1.42 times more likely to report muscle/joint/bone symptoms, 1.60 times more likely to report neurological symptoms, 1.30 times more likely to report eye, ear, nose, and throat symptoms, and 2.09 times more likely to report other symptoms such as chills, fever, fatigue, and painful urination.

Overview Summary

  • Study Background:
  1. A door-to-door health interview collected data collectively from 952 adults in Floyd, Elliot, and Rowan counties.
  2. 544 participants from the mining county (Floyd) and 351 participants from non-mining counties (Elliot and Rowan).
  3. Similar questions to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the National Health Interview Survey were used as questions to analyze health conditions.
  • Findings:
  1. Persons in the mining area, on average, were less likely to have college education, more likely to have less than high school education, higher obesity rates, more likely to be either current or past smokers, more likely to be currently married than participants from the non-mining area, more likely to have occupational experience as a coal miner, and on average did not live longer in their communities than non-mining communities.
  2. Significantly higher adjusted prevalence rates were observed for rates of serious household illness, household deaths from cancer, lifetime and current asthma, COPD, hypertension, self-rated overall health, and high number of illness symptoms.
  3. Participants in the mining community were significantly higher for risk of 21 out of 28 individual symptoms on the survey. The symptoms reported more commonly in the MTM community included chest pain, persistent cough, wheezing, skin rashes, stomach and abdominal pain, gall bladder problems, pain in muscles or joints, headaches, fatigue, and others.
  4. The results show that adults residing in an area of eastern Kentucky characterized by mountaintop coal mining have elevated prevalence rates for multiple types of health problems compared to a non-mining area (including poorer self-rated health, lifetime and current asthma, COPD, fair/poor health).
  • Conclusions:
  1. The symptoms reported more commonly in the MTM community included chest pain, persistent cough, wheezing, skin rashes, stomach and abdominal pain, gall bladder problems, pain in muscles or joints, headaches, fatigue, and others.
  • Implications:
  1. Elemental and organic analyses indicate that MTM dust is primarily organic carbon (the coal itself) and silica, followed by sulfur, aluminum, and other rare earth elements that originate from the overburden—the rock and soil above the coal seams—that is released into the environment by explosives and machinery during extraction activities.
  • Policy Considerations:
  1. In addition to environmental protections, there is a need for new investments in these impacted communities so that better economic and physical environments can be created as mining activity becomes historical.
  2. Appalachian health disparities will not be achieved unless disparities are eliminated in MTM areas, and that means not simply ending mountaintop removal, but creating better economic opportunities and environmental conditions in these disadvantaged communities.
  • Funded by and/or conducted by:
  1. The author is grateful for the contributions to this paper made by Peter Illyn, Juhua Luo, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, community volunteers, and the volunteer interviewers in the conduct of this study.

Citation: Hendryx, M. “Personal And Family Health In Rural Areas Of Kentucky With And Without Mountaintop Coal Mining.” Journal Of Rural Health (2013): Scopus®. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

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