Reps. Yarmuth, Slaughter Introduce Bill to Study Health Consequences of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Wednesday February 06, 2013
“WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25) introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (H.R. 526), legislation that would require the first comprehensive federal study of the health dangers of mountaintop removal coal mining. The legislation would place a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal mining permits while federal officials examine health consequences to surrounding communities.
“Mountaintop removal coal mining destroys entire ecosystems and contaminates the water supplies in mining communities, making people sick and jeopardizing their safety,” said Congressman Yarmuth. “This legislation will provide families in these communities the answers they need and the protection they deserve. If it can’t be proven that mountaintop removal mining is safe, we shouldn’t allow it to continue.”
“Every American has a right to live and work in a community free from environmental health risks,” said Congresswoman Slaughter, a native of Harlan County, Ky. “And it is our duty to ensure that this right is not infringed upon by industries that consider community health and environmental protection to be less important than their profit margins. Given the growing field of evidence that people living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites are at an elevated risk for a range of major health problems, we should place a moratorium on further mountaintop coal removal activity until we can ensure the health and safety of families in these communities.”
In mountaintop removal mining operations, coal companies use heavy machinery and explosives to remove the upper levels of mountains to more easily access the coal seams beneath. They dispose of the waste in adjacent valleys. Mine waste pollution – including dangerous heavy metals such as selenium and sulfate – often contaminates or buries waterways in the valleys.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mountaintop removal mining operations have buried or polluted nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams. These are primary water sources for hundreds of families and entire communities.
“All the research points to what mountain people have known since mountaintop removal began: It is not possible to destroy our mountains without destroying ourselves,” said Bev May, a family nurse practitioner and resident of Floyd County, Ky. “It’s not possible to poison our streams without poisoning our children for untold generations to come. The research is not complete, but there’s more than enough research to justify an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal.”
Evidence is mounting that people living in communities near mountaintop removal coal mining sites are at an elevated risk for a range of major health problems. While there has long been anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion, recent peer-reviewed research has examined the question more systematically and revealed compelling results.
One peer-reviewed study in Environmental Research found that communities near mountaintop removal mining sites showed elevated levels of birth defects – including circulatory and respiratory problems, and damage to the central nervous system, muscoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems – when compared with communities surrounding non-MTR mines. [Read the study here.]
Additionally, an analysis in the journal Science found that in communities near mountaintop removal coal mining sites, “adult hospitalizations for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension are elevated as a function of county-level coal production, as are rates of mortality; lung cancer; and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease. Health problems are for women and men, so effects are not simply a result of direct occupational exposure of predominantly male coal miners.” [Read the study here.]
The first comprehensive scientific report on mountaintop removal mining was released in 2010 – more than three decades after the practice became legal.
Mountaintop removal mining is largely mechanized and requires far fewer miners than traditional underground mining. In Kentucky, the increase in mountaintop removal mining operations has coincided with a 60 percent decline in the number of miners – from 47,000 to approximately 18,000 – since the practice became legal 36 years ago, according to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign
House Representatives Introduce Bill to Address Appalachian Health Crisis and Stop Mountaintop Removal
Bill would protect Appalachian families from extremely destructive coal mining practice
Washington, DC – Today a group of U.S. House of Representatives lawmakers introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act, H.R. 526) to protect Appalachian families and communities from the nation’s most extreme form of coal mining, mountaintop removal. The Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act’s leading sponsors are Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), joined by original cosponsors Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Janice Schakowksy (D-IL), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).
The ACHE Act responds to more than 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies published on the human health impacts of mountaintop removal by calling for a moratorium on mountaintop removal coal mining permits until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.
This quickly expanding body of science reveals significantly elevated rates of mortality, cancer, major organ disease, and birth defects in the areas closest to mountaintop removal mining, after controlling for all major contributing factors. One study even shows a 42 percent higher risk of birth defects in communities near mountaintop removal.
In a statement released today, leading sponsor Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) said:
“Mountaintop removal coal mining destroys entire ecosystems and contaminates the water supplies in mining communities, making people sick and jeopardizing their safety,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3). “This legislation will provide families in these communities the answers they need and the protection they deserve. If it can’t be proven that mountaintop removal mining is safe, we shouldn’t allow it to continue.”
Added ACHE Act cosponsor Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Kentucky native:
“Every American has a right to live and work in a community free from environmental health risks,” said Congresswoman Slaughter, “and it is our duty to ensure that this right is not infringed upon by industries that consider community health and environmental protection to be less important than their profit margins. There is mounting evidence that people living in communities near mountaintop removal coal mining sites are at an elevated risk for a range of major health problems, and until we can ensure there is no link between the mines and these risks, we should place a moratorium on further mountaintop coal removal activity.”
The following are statements from Appalachian citizens and members of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE) Campaign:
Bo Webb, resident of the Coal River Valley in West Virginia and founder of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign:
“We applaud Representatives John Yarmuth, Louise Slaughter, and 22 other original co-sponsors of this bill for recognizing the science and making the choice to work for the protection of the people of Appalachia. This bill offers an opportunity to all House members to put politics aside and protect lives and families.”
Laura Antrim Caskey, founder of Appalachia Watch, Rock Creek, West Virginia:
“The U.S. Geological Survey has advised us not to eat the vegetables or fruits from our gardens because toxic fallout from mountaintop removal blasting has contaminated our soil! We need swift passage of the ACHE Act.”
Allen Johnson, founder of Christians For The Mountains:
“The ACHE Act addresses an emergency, a situation of immediate risk to health and life that requires prompt intervention. It is morally imperative to help in an emergency. We plead for Congress to quickly enact the ACHE Act and save lives.”
Maria Gunnoe, West Virginia–based organizer with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, 2009 North American Goldman Prize Winner, and 2012 Wallenberg Medal recipient in recognition of crucial human rights work:
“I have fought the impacts of mountaintop removal (MTR) on my home and health for 18 years. Now science is showing that it’s killing me and my community, and Congress needs to listen. Cancer here is as common as the cold. The fact is this is not about who is winning; it is about who is dying from the violent impacts of MTR.”
Bob Kincaid, West Virginia-based activist and radio broadcaster:
“Appalachia has suffered for over a hundred years. It’s time the suffering stopped. The ACHE Act represents the last, best hope for putting an end to the suffering and finally treating Appalachian people like full-fledged American citizens. We must pass it NOW.”
The APPALACHIAN COMMUNITY HEALTH EMERGENCY (ACHE) campaign is the
collaborative grassroots effort advocating for government action and protection of the public
from the health crisis in mountaintop removal communities.
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