Frus­tra­tion sets in as study of coal mine health ended

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NATION - By Michael Vir­ta­nen

GLEN DANIEL, W.Va. — Chuck Nel­son spent his life in this corner of Ap­palachia, work­ing for years in the coal mines, a good job in the eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed area. But he says the in­dus­try that helped him earn a liv­ing cost him his health, and his wife’s, too.

The 61-year-old Nel­son blames his kid­ney and liver dis­ease on the well wa­ter he drank for years, and his wife’s more se­vere asthma on dust and par­ti­cles from sur­face mines near their home.

Some of his neigh­bors agree and say sur­face min­ing in the moun­tains has been a pri­mary cul­prit for var­i­ous health prob­lems. Some stud­ies agreed with them but in the end were in­con­clu­sive. A new fed­eral study was sup­posed to pro­vide the most com­pre­hen­sive re­view to date, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, a coal in­dus­try ad­vo­cate, sus­pended it three months ago, cit­ing bud­get rea­sons.

Nel­son and his neigh­bors weren’t sur­prised; a pre­vi­ous fed­eral study was can­celed, too. The sus­pen­sion feeds the mis­trust they long have har­bored for politi­cians who rou­tinely side with busi­nesses: If the study “comes out neg­a­tive against the coal in­dus­try, it’s swept un­der the rug, and the fund­ing’s stopped by these politi­cians who cater to the coal in­dus­try,” Nel­son said.

Stud­ies and ex­perts agree on some points: Moun­tain­top min­ing can re­lease coal dust into the air that is car­ried on the wind. De­bris from sur­face mines can harm streams, and the coal slur­ries from un­der­ground mines can seep chem­i­cally treated waste into ground­wa­ter.

“With en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age or en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, the prob­lem is that most dis­eases that we are now con­cerned about are long-term dis­eases that take decades to ap­pear,” said David Ros­ner, Columbia pro­fes­sor of so­ciomed­i­cal sciences.

Ros­ner, a mem­ber of the or­ga­ni­za­tion over­see­ing the ex­ten­sive min­ing study but not di­rectly in­volved, said the can­celed re­view would have been cru­cial. “The sci­ence has ac­tu­ally cre­ated doubt rather than cer­tainty about cause,” he said. “What this be­comes in the hands of politi­cians is an ex­cuse for inaction.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.