Birth Defects Study Adds Urgency to Appalachian Mountaintop Removal Health Concerns

Scientists, environmental advocates, and Appalachian residents affected by mountaintop removal called on Congress to heed the warning in new research that suggest a link between mountaintop removal mining and elevated rates of certain birth defects.  

Their visit came as the House of Representatives considers legislation that would weaken federal Clean Water Act protections against pollution from mountaintop removal mines and other projects.

“The spiraling health crises in the central Appalachian coalfields have reached a breaking point,” said West Virginian Maria Gunnoe of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. She delivered an appeal to Congress to enact a moratorium on mountaintop removal mining that was issued yesterday by prominent Appalachian community leaders:  “We appeal to the nation to intervene and bring an end to the staggering human costs and mounting death toll from one of the most egregious health and civil rights violations in our times.”

Gunnoe and the other signers of the appeal called on President Obama and his administration to impose an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal mining operations in Appalachia ”until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and/or other federal regulatory agencies make a complete assessment of the spiraling health and human rights crisis related to mountaintop removal mining.”

The birth defects study, published last month in the journal Environmental Research, found a significant elevation in most categories of birth defects among mothers whose residence county during pregnancy was in an area of mountaintop mining, compared with other mining and with non-mining counties in Appalachia.  The association was stronger for most birth defect types in more recent years (2000-2003) compared to earlier years (1996-1999) when presumably there was less mining. In particular, circulatory/respiratory and urogenital defects were elevated.

“What more does it take to put the brakes on mountaintop removal?” asked Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is already strong scientific evidence that this extreme form of strip mining harms people’s health and the environment. Now we find out that unborn children may be victims too.  This study is a huge red flag telling Congress to stop and look at the science.”

“The implications of this recent study are clear – babies born in regions where mountaintop removal is prevalent may be suffering from birth defects as a result,” said Congressman John Yarmuth. “But the Republicans in the House are ignoring the evidence, ignoring the science, and ignoring their responsibility to protect these children.”

For more information about the birth defects study, see

For more information about Appalachian residents’ appeal for a moratorium on MTR, visit

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