The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 20, 2011

Apology issued for coalfields birth defects statement

By Mary Catherine Brooks
Wyoming County Bureau Chief

— Crowell & Moring, a law firm representing the National Mining Association, apologized for a statement indicating birth defects in the coalfields may be caused by inbreeding as opposed to mountaintop mining.

The statement was included on Crowell & Moring’s website and other Internet sites, though the references have since been pulled, according to officials.

Wyoming County Courthouse officials were insulted by the firm’s reference to “consanguinity,” or blood relative, resulting in birth defects in coalfield counties.

“Enough is enough,” emphasized David “Bugs” Stover, Wyoming County circuit clerk and currently president of the West Virginia Association of Circuit Clerks.

“How dare someone say that, down in the coal counties, they’re all marrying their cousins,” Stover said.

The controversy began last week during a congressional subcommittee meeting in regard to a West Virginia University study indicating birth defects are statistically significant in counties with mountaintop mining, according to Stover.

“Is there a connection between mountaintop mining and birth defects? I don’t have a clue,” Stover said.

“That’s not the point. We are so tired of those stereotypes. Why is it we still have firms making statements that we probably have birth defects because of inbreeding,” Stover said.

“We’re not trying to inject ourselves into this argument,” Stover said.

“It’s insulting,” Stover emphasized.

“Our website alert was not intended to reflect views of the National Mining Association or any other coal company,” said Nicole Quigley, Crowell & Moring’s public relations director.

“The alert highlighted six scientific factors that the (WVU) study of birth defects in mountaintop mining communities failed to adequately address,” Quigley said in the prepared statement. “Among the factors was consanguinity, an issue regularly addressed in birth defect studies, whether conducted in New York, California or West Virginia.

“Our analysis addressed this universally accepted practice within the science community and nothing further. We appreciate that the alert may not have provided sufficient context to explain the scientific points we intended to address. For that reason, we have removed the alert from our site. We did not intend to offend, and apologize for any offense taken,” Quigley said.

Stover said county officials understand the National Mining Association contends the WVU study is flawed. He added that WVU study participants are addressing the scientific points of contention raised by the National Mining Association.

“That will be for the scientists to determine,” he said.

“We’re just tired of hearing that we’re ignorant hillbillies who like to marry our cousins.”

— E-mail: mcbrooks@register-herald.com