Study: Mountaintop Removal Causes More Birth Defects

Activists fighting to end mountaintop removal mining (MTR) have long pointed to the adverse environmental effects of the process on surrounding communities. Now, the argument that the destructive mining process also has a substantial human cost on those communities is beginning to gain momentum.

According to a new study by professors at West Virginia and Washington State universities, mountaintop removal has a direct link to the prevalence of birth defects in the communities where it is practiced. By studying birth records from 1996 to 2003, the professors found that six separate birth defects were more common in MTR communities. WFPL News reports:

According to the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research, babies born in counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee where mountaintop removal mines were in operation were 26 percent more likely to suffer from some kind of birth defect. That’s compared to babies born in counties where there is no coal mining. The babies were also more likely to have birth defects than those born in counties where coal is mined other ways.

“There were even higher birth defect prevalence rates in the recent period,” [Professor Melissa Ahern, lead author of the study] said. “Which means as mountaintop mining has increased, it appears that increase is associated with higher birth defect rates.”

This is not the first study to link MTR and health problems. In May, researchers at West Virginia University found that people living near MTR sites suffered lower levels of health and quality of life than those in other areas.


Unfortunately, even with evidence of MTR’s adverse effects on human health mounting, governors and lawmakers in the Central Appalachian states have continued to battle the communities they represent, choosing instead to stand up for coal companies’ ability to continue destroying our environment and our health.