Floyd County is also home to Ricky Handshoe, whose problems with water pollution from adjacent mountaintop removal sites have been chronicled by CNHI News.
Handshoe has health concerns about two mine-polluted streams on his property. He claims when a neighbor used water from Raccoon Creek to fill a stocking fish pond, “It boiled the fish alive.”
“We have to wonder what harm the pollution is doing to our health,” said Handshoe who continues to undergo medical testing to determine the cause of numbness in his fingertips and discoloration and striation of his fingernails.
Residents of the three counties were interviewed by college students; the study factored out other health risks like smoking, occupational exposure of miners, obesity, education, income and age.
Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 952 adults 18 years of age or older who were divided into two groups: those living in Floyd County and another group living in Rowan and Elliott counties where there is no mountaintop removal activity and whose combined populations and socio-economic profiles are similar to those of Floyd County.
The study revealed there is a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer in Floyd County over the past five years than for residents of Elliott and Rowan counties; a 56 percent higher incidence of lifetime asthma; and dramatically higher incidences of COPD and hypertension.
Those differences can’t be explained by conventional risk behaviors like smoking or education or obesity, Hendryx said in a telephone interview.
Stumbo zeroed in on the higher rates of education attainment and per capita income in Rowan County, home to Morehead State University.
“Everybody in the world knows that you can take a population that is less well educated and that has a lower per capita income and you’ll see their health habits are (worse) and hence their rates of diseases are attributable to those two things,” he said.