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What the Coal Industry Really Thinks about West Virginia


The coal industry is so incredibly loathsome:

In response to a recent study connecting mountaintop removal coal mining to birth defects, coal industry lawyers noted:

The study failed to account for consanquinity [sic], one of the most prominent sources of birth defects.

As Ken Ward notes in the second link above, it’s unclear precisely what the lawyers mean:

I guess I really wanted to give the industry lawyers the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they meant to simply suggest that having lots of people who are related — several generations, siblings, cousins — all living in nearby h0llows near mining operations was something that needed to be studied. After all, there is evidence that some birth defects can have genetic causes.

I looked up consanguinity (I was pretty sure that was the word they meant to use, not consanquinity) and found that it meant:

… The property of being from the same kinship as another person. In that respect, consanguinity is the quality of being descended from the same ancestor as another person. Consanguinity is an important legal concept in that the laws of many jurisdictions consider consanguinity as a factor in deciding whether two individuals may be married or whether a given person inherits property when a deceased person has not left a will.

So, I asked Michael Hendryx about this … here’s what he said:

Consanguinity refers to levels of shared ancestry. It is a reference to in-breeding, not necessarily incest, but still insulting.

Consanguinity it is not just the same families living in the same area unless related members of those families are interbreeding.

Maybe they are referring to third cousins or distant relatives that might intermarry, but 1) research on whether higher birth defects occurs for relatives more distant than first cousins is very sparse, 2) they’d have to argue that MTM areas had more of these interbreeding pockets than other rural areas, and 3) they still don’t account for the higher effects found in recent time and in proximity to higher mining. This is another one of these attempts to say what the effects “really” are as an excuse to deny the serious health problems in MTM areas that exist across many health outcome measures. The reasons are partly due to the poor socioeconomic conditions that mining creates (not that are correlated with mining, but that mining creates), and may be due to the environmental pollution caused by mining.

Either way, for the coal industry to suggest that inbreeding is the reason for West Virginia birth defects shows just what it thinks of the people in the area it works.

The study itself is actually quite interesting. Quoting from the first link above:

“We found that birth defects were significantly higher in mountaintop mining areas versus non-mining areas for six of seven types of defects: circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and ‘other,’” Michael Hendryx, Ph.D., co-author of the study in the WVU Department of Community Medicine, said.

“Overall, the prevalence rate for any defect was significant in both periods but was higher in the more recent period. In the earlier period the rate of birth defects was 13 percent higher in mountaintop mining areas and increased to 42 percent higher in the later period.”

Researchers used secondary data to study all live birth outcomes for the years 1996 through 2003. They determined the mother’s residence relative to county mining type (mountaintop mining, other mining, no mining) and controlled for birth-defect risks including mother’s age, race/ethnic origin, education, smoking and drinking during pregnancy, diabetes, metro/non-metro location, infant gender and low prenatal care.

Dr. Hendryx added that mountaintop mining in one county may contribute to birth-defect prevalence rates in surrounding counties.

“Elevated birth defect rates are partly a function of socioeconomic disadvantage but remain elevated after controlling for those risks, suggesting that environmental influences in mountaintop mining areas may be contributing factors to elevated birth defect rates,” he said.

“A growing body of studies have found significant associations between coal-mining areas and a variety of chronic disease problems for adults, after controlling for other disease risk factors. Research related to infants has found that mothers residing in coal mining areas are more likely to have a low birth weight infant. This study extends that research, showing that mountaintop mining areas are associated with elevated levels of birth defect prevalence rates.”

But hey, doesn’t cousin-fucking make much more sense in explaining these birth defects than blasting half the state and dumping all the rocks and chemicals into the valleys and water supply?

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  • Wow. I guess they’re jealous of all the bad press the petroleum industry has gotten since the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

  • DrDick

    I think these attitudes are reflective of extractive industries generally, especially mineral extraction, and not specific to the coal industry, though the latter may be especially loathsome in this regard.

    • The loathsomeness of coal transcends all. It’s about so much more than just this. Of course, you could make that argument for many industries. Talk about a race to the bottom.

      • Bill Murray

        Well Barrick probably bulldozed a bunch of indigenous miners into a mine in Africa back in 1996. I would guess Massey would love to be able to do that


        • Jesus. I hadn’t heard of that before.

        • God have mercy, that’s awful.

          Think of the machine drivers. Think of what the company must have been filling their heads with in the months before that. Those commies are going to make us shut down. What will your family do then?

  • DocAmazing

    Sadly, I suspect that West Virginia voters will hear of this, get righteously angry, and run out and vote Republican.

    • No, they’ll vote for “friend of coal” Democrats, who are pretty much the only kind in WV, especially at the state level (the governor, for example). I worked on campaign finance reform in WV in the 90’s, doing data entry on the campaign contributions that were reported, and I learned several things: 1. that extractive industries give most WV candidates a lot of money, and 2. a West Virginia state delegate can be be bought remarkably cheaply.

  • RepubAnon

    Actually, there are statistical tests to show whether an unconsidered factor affected the results (what statisticians call “bias”).

    However, the coal industry’s argument only makes sense if there’s a statistically significant correlation between mountaintop mining and “consanguinity.” For example – crime statistics broken down by race alone don’t tell the whole story if economic data is not considered, because economic status has a relationship to crime, and race is related to economic status.

    Thus, the coal industry’s claim opens up some troubling questions – for them. The coal industry is apparently claiming that mountaintop mining is more likely to occur where there’s higher levels of consanguinity in the population. If so, what’s the relationship? Economic status? Education levels? Does the presence of coal somehow cause consanguinity (vice versa seems unlikely)?

    Is consanguinity a new, hidden health risk associated with coal? Does mining coal cause consanguinity – or is it also caused by transport, storage, and/or burning of the coal?

    • rea

      And if coal mining causes you to marry your cousin, why aren’t the industry lawyers affected?

      • DrDick

        Are you sure that they are not?

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  • I wonder if Crowell & Moring have two sets of birth defect studies.

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