A Century of Scarred Mountains: Pennsylvania’s Health Disparities and Coal Mining Communities
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The Appalachian Region has seen a significant amount of mining for coal in the last century. Pennsylvania, a state with both bituminous and anthracite coal reserves, has a long history with coal mining. Active mining operations continue to emit pollutants and drastically alter this mountainous region, while abandoned mine land has created issues decades after the active mining activity ended. Long burning abandoned refuse pile fires contribute to air pollution and acid mine drainage impairs the quality of water resources. Prior to the passing of the Surface Mining Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), mining companies were not required to reclaim lands back to their pre-mining state and many acres of land were left in poor environmental conditions. This improperly reclaimed land is a public health hazard and alters nearby ecosystem quality. Mining communities have experienced long-term exposure to environmental degradation and this stressor may be observable in higher disease rates in communities that have a significant coal mining influence. Acid Mine Drainage is currently the main pollutant in surface water within the mid-Atlantic region states (EPA). AMD severely degrades water quality and aquatic habitats and poses as a threat to human health and safety due to the increased risk-exposure of toxic substances such as heavy metals. Underground abandoned mines and refuse piles have the potential to catch on fire, causing contributions to air pollution (Sussman). Active surface mining activity can release particulate matter into the air. Significant coal mining activity may have impacts on the health of surrounding communities: higher rates of mortality from heart, respiratory and kidney disease have been observed in coal mining areas of Appalachia (Hendryx, 2009). Numerous other studies on the Appalachian region have found significant health disparities in populations associated with coal mining; (Hendryx, et. al) Single regression test were run for cause-specific mortality calculations and age adjusted incidence and mortality rates from various diseases. The disease variables were compared to the amount of active coal production and density of abandoned mine land sites. This study calculated the proportionate mortality ratios for different causes of death within Pennsylvania counties. It was hypothesized that counties with increased densities of abandoned mine land problem sites would have higher rates of death from cancers, heart, kidney, respiratory diseases. It was also hypothesized that counties with increased densities of abandoned mine land sites and increased active mining production will have increased rates of age-adjusted cancer incidence and heart disease mortality rates. Results depict a weak positive relationship found between abandoned coal mine sites and both proportionate mortality rates and age-adjusted mortality rates from heart disease. The hypothesis is accepted for the heart disease variables and abandoned mine land density; it is rejected for heart disease and active coal production. The null hypothesis is accepted for all other single regressions involving the other disease variables.
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