FRANKFORT — People who live near mountaintop removal mining sites in Floyd County have significantly higher cancer death rates and suffer a higher incidence of other diseases than residents in other Kentucky Appalachian counties where mountaintop removal doesn’t occur.
That’s the conclusion of a study by Michael Hendryx, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of West Virginia, who has done similar research in West Virginia. The report was published in The Journal of Rural Health.
The president of the Kentucky Coal Association, Bill Bissett, and Kentucky’s Speaker of the House, Greg Stumbo, who is from Floyd County, scoffed at the methodology and conclusions of the report.
“I don’t believe that stuff for a minute,” said Stumbo. “I’ve lived there all my life. There are no pollutants in the air. When you blow up something, it’s just dust for a little while and that’s the end of it. It’s not like the sky is blackened every day.”
Hendryx’s study disputes that, indicating small particulate matter like ammonium nitrate, silica and benzene, which have been linked to health problems, are present in the air near mountaintop removal sites. Streams and ground water are polluted.
Bev May, a nurse practitioner who lives along Wilson Creek in Floyd County where coal trucks daily pass her house, said it doesn’t require a scientific degree to realize coal dust, which covers houses and yards, is harmful.
May said the dust creates tiny, airborne particulate matter, too small to be trapped by cilia, very small hairs in the respiratory system which catch larger particles and expel them through mucus. Instead, the tiny particles are deposited directly into lung tissue and cause serious health problems.
“There are places in Floyd County where you have to drive through the dust every time you go through there because the coal trucks are dragging the dust and mud off the mine site,” May said. “I’m probably fine, but what about that child with asthma or the elderly person with COPD? That can’t be good for them.”