For years, groups, researchers, and individuals have been saying that mining, and particularly large scale surface mining, has an adverse impact upon public health. For a little history of some of the times that the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and others have been saying it, see the September, 2016, issue of The Highlands Voice. To see it, go to https://www.wvhighlands.org/highlands-voice-mag/ and click on Archives.
That same issue of The Voice reported that the National Academy of Sciences intended to do a study of this problem.
Now the study has begun. Here is the way the National Academy of Sciences describes its task:
Statement of Task
An ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will conduct a study to examine the potential relationship between increased health risks and living in proximity to sites that have been or are being mined or reclaimed for surface coal deposits. The study will focus on four states in Central Appalachia. In particular, the study will:
1. Identify and briefly describe the main types of coal deposits in Central Appalachia that are extracted using surface mining techniques. Descriptions will include geologic and geochemical characteristics, mining and reclamation operations, and waste management approaches.
2. Summarize the state and federal regulatory frameworks for surface coal mining operations, including coal preparation plants and the associated coarse coal refuse facilities and slurry impoundments.
3. Systematically search and screen literature to identify relevant scientific publications on the potential human health effects related to surface coal mining operations. The committee will use the selected literature to accomplish the following:
- Identify effects from surface coal mining operations on air, surface water, ground-water, and drinking water quality and on ecologic communities and soil that could potentially lead to human health concerns.
b. Evaluate the potential for short-term and long-term human health effects, which will include consideration of potential exposure pathways and relevant environmental contaminants and other stressors.
c. Assess the scientific and methodologic quality, rigor, and sufficiency of the scientific research.
- Identify baseline data and approaches necessary to monitor environmental and human health indicators that may be affected by surface coal mining operations.
5. Identify gaps in research and needs for additional research that may assist in the development of new approaches to safeguard the health of residents living near these types of coal mining operations.
As this study is focused on human health effects for those living in close proximity to surface coal mine operations, the committee will not consider the occupational health aspects of workers at these mines.
The study committee had its first public meeting on March 7, 2017. That meeting was mostly about getting organized, defining the problem, etc. If you want to sign up for email updates go to http://dels.nas.edu/Study-In-Progress/Potential-Human-Health-Effects-Surface/DELS-BESR-16-03?bname=besr.
For additional information, go to
The project is supposed to take 24 months.