Moving Beyond Case Studies: Research Examples from Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Mountaintop removal is a form of surface coal mining practiced in Central Appalachia. People who live near these mining sites express concerns about water and air quality problems caused by mining with corresponding impacts on health, but until relatively recently empirical evidence was lacking. This paper will describe the progression of a research line proceeding from secondary analyses of epidemiological data, to community health surveys, to the beginnings of environmental exposure assessment studies in laboratory and community settings. Early studies documented significantly poorer health conditions across multiple indicators among people living in mining versus non-mining areas. Environmental sampling documented the levels and types of air and water contaminants present in mining communities, and more recently, the first cause and effect connections have been made between environmental conditions and biological markers. Particulate matter from mining communities, for example, has been shown to promote lung cancer progression in vitro. More remains to be done, but the example of research on mountaintop removal provides a case study in moving from anecdotal evidence to research evidence to address an environmental health concern. Observations and recommendations are offered that may be useful in developing a research base to understand public health impacts from karst groundwater contamination.
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