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article imageACHE Act addresses health problems associated with MTR mining Special

By Karen Graham     Oct 30, 2014 in Health
In 2001, after retiring, Bo Webb moved back to Clay's Branch hollow in West Virginia where he had been raised. Shortly thereafter Webb came face-to-face with mountaintop removal mining, and he was sickened and appalled.
Bringing public awareness to the growing health-crisis caused by mountaintop removal (MTR) mining is the all-encompassing mission of an organization called Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) and its leader, Bo Webb. Digital Journal spoke with Mr. Webb on Monday about the recent studies confirming the cancers related to MTR mining in Appalachia.
Bo Webb describes his experiences with mountaintop removal at a Congressional briefing in April  201...
Bo Webb describes his experiences with mountaintop removal at a Congressional briefing in April, 2013.
Bo Webb
Bo Webb is the affable and likable leader of ACHE, and in talking with him, it was evident that his crusade, started back in 2001, has grown. He told Digital Journal that "innocent people are being killed" by the toxic chemicals in "our air, water and even the soil," due to the effects of MTR mining. And, Webb says there are numerous studies that back him up.
One of the affects of MTR mining is the pollution of local streams and other water sources with toxi...
One of the affects of MTR mining is the pollution of local streams and other water sources with toxic chemicals.
The advent of the ACHE bill started innocently enough, with Webb meeting Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky. The Congressman told Webb he would sponsor a bill requiring a federal study on the health effects of MTR mining and a moratorium, but somebody had to write the bill. Webb, who had never written such an important document in his life gave it a go. Thankfully, he had the assistance of Joan Mulhern, who knew the ins-and-outs of getting a bill written. The rest is history.
It has taken many years of talking with local and state government officials, and many trips to Washington D.C. to get the necessary backing for The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (A.C.H.E.) Act. But on February 6, 2013, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY) introduced HR 526. The bill now has 47 additional sponsors and will be reintroduced in 2015, according to Webb.
HR 526 would require the first comprehensive study of the health effects of MTR mining at the federal level, something that has never been done. The bill also would place a moratorium on all new MTR mining permits while federal officials examine health-related consequences of MTR mining in the affected communities.
The studies that back up the ACHE Act
In July, 2012, a USGS study was released showing high levels of toxic compounds in soil and water surrounding MTR mining sites. Bill Orem, USGS research geochemist and project chief, said the MTR mining areas displayed “unusually high” pH levels for a number of toxic chemicals. Orem also pointed out the air content of silica particles, which cause lung disease, was “definitely higher."
In November 2012, Lynn M. Crosby and Bill Orem, both working with the USGS gave a presentation at the GSA annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C. The talk centered on the relationship between MTR mining and lung cancer deaths in West Virginia and Kentucky. Using public databases (CDC/NCI State Cancer Profiles 2005-2009) they were able to show a distinct correlation between increased lung cancers in communities near MTR mining sites.
Graphic from the final briefing held this year on the ACHE Act.
Graphic from the final briefing held this year on the ACHE Act.
Earth Institute
Webb recounted a telephone call he received from Crosby during the 2012 study. Crosby told Webb, "don't eat the apples from your apple tree." The scientist said the soil was contaminated and toxic chemicals could be in fruits and in people's vegetable gardens.
Perhaps because the findings by the USGS research team were so compelling, and certainly warranted additional studies, the program suddenly stopped. Bo Webb told Digital Journal the funding for further MTR mining studies was suddenly shut down by the USGS Energy Resources Program in February 2013.
Crosby has not given up on presenting new studies on the adverse health affects of MTR mining. Webb says the health crisis from MTR is alarming, and Lynn Crosby is involved in a new study on the mortality rates from MTR, due out in 2015.
Some people think the move was purely political, as an instrument in appeasing the coal industry. “I personally believe they were shut off for political purposes,” said Michael Hendryx, a former West Virginia University researcher. Hendryx has conducted more than two-dozen studies on the health effects of MTR mining, and his research was what prompted the USGS study in the first place.
Michael Hendryx  Ph.D. discusses some of his research relative to Mountaintop Removal.
Michael Hendryx, Ph.D. discusses some of his research relative to Mountaintop Removal.
Bo Webb
But the most important study done on the health effects of MTR mining to date is the study by a research team at the University of West Virginia, published on Oct. 21, this year. The study was described in Digital Journal as the first definitive evidence linking cancer rates in MTR mining communities with mining dust collected from MTR sites.
Webb told Digital Journal ACHE has "divorced itself from the kinds of strategies" used by the coal companies in their efforts to disprove the facts. "The ACHE Act will get around all of it," Webb said, pointing out the ACHE Act would require a federally-backed comprehensive health study, and while that is going on, a moratorium on any MTR mining.
Digital Journal asked Webb about the numbers of people employed in MTR mining in the communities. Webb said it is a "fallacy" when we have the notion that MTR mining employs lots of people. In the area where he lives, Webb was quick to give the exact number of people employed, saying "only 4,633 workers were employed," and none of them were coal miners. The workers are "blasting techs and heavy machinery operators." Unemployment rates are some of the highest in the region, and Webb says the people lucky enough to get a job have to go "25 to 30 miles away" to find them.
Webb told Digital Journal that more support was needed for the ACHE Act. Getting the word out on what MTR mining is doing to the health of people in the Appalachian region is imperative and support of the legislation will go far in getting it passed. All anyone needs to do is go to the ACHE website and join the fight.
More about ACHE Act, mountaintop removal mining, Bo Webb, Health studies, Cancer rates
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