Appalachia Health Quarantine: Will Feds Issue Protective Respirators to Kids, Families Near Mountaintop Removal Sites?

On the heels of a breakthrough study that demonstrates the indisputable link between lung cancer and mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia, besieged residents are wondering if the federal government will issue protective respirators to "every man, woman, and child living near mountaintop removal mining."

In lieu of emergency federal action--or even a single historic visit by an Obama official to this health disaster zone--such desperate calls for immediate health protection for the thousands of exposed Appalachians are the latest actions by residents who have endured an unmitigated health disaster and mounting death toll from reckless strip mining over the past half century.

"This study shows that dust collected from MTR [mountaintop removal] communities promotes lung cancer," according to Dr. Michael Hendryx, now at Indiana University's School of Public Health and one of the study's authors. "Previous studies have shown that people who live in these communities have higher lung cancer rates not due just to smoking, but with this study we now have solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near MTR sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells."

Over the years, it has been sickening to watch politicians, coal company hacks and sycophantic journalists defer judgment and split hairs over the connections between massive mountaintop removal operations and public health hazards in the same way black lung disease for coal miners had been denied for decades.

But that era of denial is over.

"We have clear scientific evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining jeopardizes the health of coalfield residents, and today's study is more proof that we can no longer ignore the dangerous impact of this destructive practice," said Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3), who introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, along with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25), this Congress. "No one should have to breathe the dirty air or drink the polluted water in mountaintop removal communities, but as long as we allow this public health hazard to continue, we are forcing the residents of Appalachia to do exactly that."

One day in the not-so-distant future, our newspapers will feature headlines about the massive wrongful death settlements with the coal companies--such as last summer's $26 billion verdict against the tobacco companies for lung cancer--and criminal charges of negligent homicide by policymakers and politicians who have openly allowed such a health crisis to take place.

"Our politicians cannot ignore or deny this report. Mountaintop removal blasting dust promotes lung cancer," said Bo Webb, who has personally lost family members to cancer and lives under a mountaintop removal operation. "The report 'supports prudent adoption of prevention strategies and exposure control,' so Congress urgently needs to protect public health by passing the ACHE Act immediately. Short of that, protective respirators should be provided to every man, woman, and child living near mountaintop mining."