Trump Administration Halts Study On Health Risks Associated With Coal Mining

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A federal study examining the potential health risks of living near surface coal mining sites in Appalachia has been put on hold by the White House as it reviews its grant and agreements.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced Monday that it had halted the study — which aimed to review the public health risks associated with living near mountaintop removal coal-mining sites — after the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent a letter to the organization asking it to “cease all work” on the project.

The letter states that the organization should halt the study as the Department has begun an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000. The agency had earmarked more than $1 million for the coal mining study.

Mountaintop-removal coal mining is a technique used to extract underlying coal from mountains. While digging for the coal, companies have long been found to dump the resulting rubble and debris onto surrounding land or into nearby streams.

The Research

Officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the state Bureau for Public Health, and several citizen groups in the area had pushed OSM to join the study about coal removal health risks last year, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.

In Aug. 2016, OSM announced it had committed more than $1 million to fund the study intended to better understanding previous research that had found an increased risk of birth defects, cancer, and other illnesses among resident living near such removal sites in Kentucky and West Virginia.

OSM cited growing research that had pointed to possible correlations between mountaintop-removal coal mining and public health risks when it announced the funding for the study last year. The Gazette-Mail notes that the agency said at that time there was a need to examine existing studies, find research gaps, and explore new approaches to protect the health of residents living near the sites.

As a result, the Academies commenced the two-year study, which included interviewing residents of Appalachia and the creation of an expert panel to examine residents’ health.

In fact, the Academies announced the study’s halt just hours before it was set to meet with residents in Kentucky for open meetings to discuss the coal-mining removal sites on Monday. The organization noted that those meetings, set to take place through Wednesday, would continue as scheduled.

“The National Academies believes this is an important study and we stand ready to resume it as soon as the Department of the Interior review is completed,” the organization said in a statement.

Is It Needed?

Still, some in the coal industry don’t believe the research is needed.

Officials with the National Mining Association tell the Gazette-Mail that the study might be “unnecessary” as mountaintop-removal is small industry and that a recent report from the National Toxicology Program “didn’t see any evidence justifying a health hazard.”

However, a scientist with knowledge of that report tells the Gazette-Mail that researchers cautioned that there was not enough evidence to say if there were health risks associated with the mountaintop-removal process, noting that officials with the National Toxicology Program found more research was needed.

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