Cancer in coal country: study links health of streams with health of people
Posted April 21, 2010
A new study from Virginia Tech and WVU researchers finds a connection between the ecological health of Appalachian streams and cancer deaths in the region. (Hat tip to Ken Ward, Jr. at the Charleston Gazette.)
Published in the journal EcoHealth this month, the first-of-its kind study analyzed relationships between a measure of stream health based on the presence and distribution of small freshwater creatures, cancer mortality rates, and factors such as poverty and smoking. They found:
- A relationship between stream health and cancer rates (one that was not explainable by other factors related to cancer in the region like smoking, poverty, and urbanization)
- A significant association between coal mining, poor stream health, and higher cancer mortality
- Cancer clusters corresponding to areas of high coal mining intensity.
These findings are especially interesting since they come on the heels of the new EPA guidance that explicitly sets stream health, in terms of streams' ability to support aquatic life, as the standard to uphold when considering mountaintop removal permit applications.
The coal industry and its friends have made much of the notion that the presence of mayfly larvae can indicate whether water quality has been affected by mining. But the science shows that they and other benthic macroinvertebrates (or "teeny creek critters" as I prefer to call them) have a lot to say not only about stream health, but about protecting public health in coal country.
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