Proximity To Coal Mining And Health Indicators

Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia

Michael Hendryx, PhD, and Melissa M. Ahern, PhD

American Journal of Public Health, 2008

Keywords:  Coal mining, West Virginia, health indicators

Purpose:  This study sought to find whether health effects from coal mining result only from socioeconomic correlates of mining (such as income or education) or whether effects persist after controlling for such factors, which would suggest environmental exposure problems.

Important Finding:  The literature supports the hypothesis that the risk for these illnesses (cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease) increases with exposure to coal byproducts.

Significant Quote:  “Results… indicated that high levels of coal production were associated with worse adjusted health satus and with higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.”

Results: The authors used data from a survey of 16,493 West Virginians merged with county-level coal production and other covariates to investigate the relations between health indicators and residential proximity to coal mining. Results of hierarchical analyses indicated that high levels of coal production were associated with worse adjusted health status and with higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.   As coal production increased, health status worsened, and rates of cardiopulmonary disease, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney disease increased. Within larger disease categories, specific types of disease associated with coal production included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), black lung disease, and hypertension.

For illnesses that were associated with coal effects, the literature supports the hypothesis that the risk for these illnesses increases with exposure to coal byproducts. Toxins and impurities present in coal have been linked to kidney disease and to hypertension and other cardiovascular disease.  The effects also may result from the general inflammatory or systemic consequences of inhaled particles.  Effects may be multifactorial, a result of slurry holdings that leach toxins into drinking water and air pollution effects of coal mining and washing.

Research is recommended to ascertain the mechanisms, magnitude, and consequences of a community coal-mining exposure effect.