Kissing Cousins vs. Coal: Mining Industry Lawyers Clarify Comments on Inbreeding and Birth Defects in West Virginia

Folks living near mountaintop removal mining operations may be at greater risk for birth defects according to a new study by West Virginia University (WVU) researchers. According to co-author Michael Hendryx, Ph.D.:

Research related to infants has found that mothers residing in coal mining areas are more likely to have a low birth weight infant. This study extends that research, showing that mountaintop mining areas are associated with elevated levels of birth defect prevalence rates.

Mining industry lawyers attacked the findings, noting the study failed to account for consanguinity, which is just a really long word for inbreeding. Interestingly, the online rebuttal by attorneys from Crowell & Moring mysteriously disappeared, but you can read it here. After the Charleston Gazette questioned the law firm about the missing post, a spokeswoman for the organization had this to say:

Photo credit: Vivian Stockman

Our website alert is not intended to reflect views of the National Mining Association, but is an attempt to identify certain potential weaknesses of the study in question. Consanguinity is one of a number of commonly addressed issues in studies of this type, regardless of geography. Scientists address this consideration regularly because it can matter to scientific conclusions, and do so regardless of locale. We did not raise this issue with particular reference to any region, and we did not mean to imply any such thing. That said, we apologize for any offense taken, as none was intended. We can appreciate the view that our alert may not have provided enough context to explain the scientific points we aimed to address, and so have removed it from our site.

Another spokeswoman for the National Mining Association also said her organization was not involved with the infamous web posting. As for what the potential fallout of all of this will be, your guess is as good as mining.

Mountaintop removal mining is a destructive technique for extracting coal that destroys mountains, forests, wildlife, water and the way of life for people who live near the operation. As the WVU study reveals, the process can also have a terrible impact on babies, the next generation of West Virginians who will see the Mountain State with fewer mountains, greater pollution and potentially more health problems.

H.R. 2018, the Dirty Water Act, could make mountaintop removal mining even dirtier by gutting the Clean Water Act. You can speak up for wildlife, water and future generations of Americans today. Click here to tell lawmakers to protect our future, our health and our precious natural resources from pollution.