Study Links Mountaintop Removal Mining to Birth Defects

by Erica Peterson on June 21, 2011

A new study says babies born in counties where mountaintop removal mining is done may be more likely to suffer birth defects than babies born in counties with other types of coal mining.

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.

Melissa Ahern is a professor at Washington State University, and the lead author of the study. She says she relied on data of babies born between 1996 and 2003.

“There were even higher birth defect prevalence rates in the recent period,” she said. “Which means as mountaintop mining has increased, it appears that increase is associated with higher birth defect rates.”

The researchers also were able to control for lifestyle factors that are known to increase the likelihood of birth defects.

“We did have individual data for each mother in terms of where she resided and what her age and racial and/or ethnic origin, education, smoking and drinking during pregnancy, diabetes, other risk factors for birth defects, and we controlled for all of those,” Ahern said.

Even after those controls, babies born in mountaintop removal counties were more likely to have birth defects than those born in non-mining counties or counties with other types of coal mining.

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