The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 3, 2013

Health issues: There’s more to think about

I think you have missed an opportunity to help inform a more useful conversation about the difficulties West Virginia faces.

While the article lists plenty of statistics about poor health habits, there is no mention of the 20-plus health studies in West Virginia which indicate something near mountaintop removal (MTR) mining sites is causing increased rates of cancers and cardiovascular disease, birth defects, etc.

Many of these peer reviewed studies are co-authored by Dr. Michael Hendryx, interim chair in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University, and director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center.

Dr. Hendryx, from a Sept. 5, 2012, interview:                                 

“... we see that people in mining environments are more likely to have some forms of cancer, types of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, birth defects, lower birth weight babies, poorer health-related quality of life. ... We found these effects are present for different outcomes for men, women and children... the problems are worst where the mining levels are heaviest and they’re intermediate where the mining is intermediate and they’re best where mining is absent. We find that the problems persist after controlling for the effects of other risk factors, so it’s not because of smoking or poverty or age or education or obesity or other types of risks that also are related to these health problems; it’s an independent effect....” (from

Of course, poor health is just one of the consequences of systemic and persistent poverty, disconnected communities and a failing education system. The Gallup Wellbeing index shows Congressman Rahall’s district to be the worst in the state, and has been pretty consistently near the bottom, nationally, for years. (

Clearly there is more going on here, in one of the wealthiest coal regions of the country, than just poor health habits.

Eric Autenreith