Quantcast

Dear Sec. Burwell: Come Home to See Firsthand Appalachia's Health Crisis and Help Us Halt Mountaintop Removal Mining

Energy

Here's a reality check: Since President Obama took office in 2009, not a single top level official from the White House, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of the Interior or Department of Justice has ever made a fact-finding tour of mountaintop removal mining communities in central Appalachia, home to one of the worst health and humanitarian disasters in the nation. Even worse, a federal judge ruled last month that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may disregard studies on the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining in its permitting process.

Mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining in southern West Virginia. Photo credit: Vivian Stockman / Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

That could finally change with the newly appointed Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who was born and raised in Hinton, West Virginia.

"We implore you to come home for a visit, come to our mountaintop removal communities in the Coal River Valley," nationally-honored West Virginia advocate Bo Webb wrote in a letter to Burwell this week. "Come to Twilight and Lindytown and see what mountaintop removal is doing to us."

Recognizing the staggering human and health crisis from the extreme form of strip mining, including high birth defects and cancer rates, besieged residents and coal mining families in Burwell's neighboring West Virginia communities have now issued an urgent appeal to the HHS chief to make a breakthrough visit to afflicted residents.

"All of us who have been born and grown up in West Virginia recognize our close connection to coal and the coal industry," wrote Webb, a Vietnam veteran, who co-founded the Appalachian Community Health Emergency group. "My father, uncles, grandfather, and cousins, all worked in underground coal mines. Mining has been an honorable job in West Virginia." He added:

But now there is this most destructive method of mining known as mountaintop removal, and if you live near this specific type of mining you have greatly increased chances of getting cancer. (Double that of non-mountaintop removal communities and nearly triple the national average). Birth defects in our mountaintop removal communities have grown shockingly higher as mountaintop removal has become more prevalent. Heart and lung diseases have increased as well. Scientific research continues to unveil this increasing health crisis, yet our family’s health is being ignored. It is heartbreaking to continue to witness close friends and family members suffer and die, knowing their deaths are premature and preventable. Yet our state and federal leaders refuse to even acknowledge the multitudes of peer reviewed scientific research that show these health issues are unique and specific to mountaintop removal communities.

The HHS, of course, is the "U.S. government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services."

Read page 1

More than 20 peer-reviewed studies have been published on the heath impacts of mountaintop removal mining on residents and miners.

The results: Higher birth defect rateshigher cancer rates and skyrocketing health care costs and burdens in mountaintop removal communities.

In an oped in the Charleston Gazette last week, Webb, whose family has lived under a mountaintop removal operation, wrote: "This is personal to me. In 2012, my wife Joanne was diagnosed with lung cancer. She passed away three months later. It was devastating. We had been married for nearly 40 years. All around us, people are getting sick. They’re dying. And the scientific evidence tells us mountaintop removal mining is the cause of much of this suffering."

Here's Webb's full letter to Burwell:

The Honorable Sylvia Burwell

Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Madam Secretary,

Congratulations on your confirmation of becoming President Obama’s choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. As a West Virginian I am extremely proud of your service to our country going back to the Clinton administration, your foundation work since, and now this most important appointment. I wish you the very best in your new position and have no doubt you will achieve great success as you have throughout your career.

I am hopeful that your appointment might give those of us West Virginians who are experiencing firsthand the health horrors of mountaintop removal mining an opportunity to finally have someone at the federal level recognize the great number of health disparities that exist in mountaintop removal communities specific.

All of us who have been born and grown up in West Virginia recognize our close connection to coal and the coal industry. My father, uncles, grandfather, and cousins, all worked in underground coal mines. Mining has been an honorable job in West Virginia.

But now there is this most destructive method of mining known as mountaintop removal, and if you live near this specific type of mining you have greatly increased chances of getting cancer. (Double that of non-mountaintop removal communities and nearly triple the national average). Birth defects in our mountaintop removal communities have grown shockingly higher as mountaintop removal has become more prevalent. Heart and lung diseases have increased as well. Scientific research continues to unveil this increasing health crisis, yet our family’s health is being ignored. It is heartbreaking to continue to witness close friends and family members suffer and die, knowing their deaths are premature and preventable. Yet our state and federal leaders refuse to even acknowledge the multitudes of peer reviewed scientific research that show these health issues are unique and specific to mountaintop removal communities.

I implore you to come home for a visit, come to our mountaintop removal communities in the Coal River Valley. Come to Twilight and Lindytown and see what mountaintop removal is doing to us. On the average there are 5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel mix detonated per day in the mountains directly above our homes in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. This has been going on for nearly the last 20 years. The fallout of fine particulates of silica, aluminum and other toxins are killing us.

Please come and see for yourself. Please talk to research scientists at WVU and Indiana University who have published papers on this subject. Please talk to research scientists at the United State Geological Survey that have collected and conducted test on the air we are breathing. I am more than happy to supply you all their names and contact information. But please, more than anything, first please come home and see this with your own eyes. I would be more than happy to organize local groups and individuals for you to meet on such a visit.

Sincerely,

Bo Webb

PO Box274

Naoma, WV 25140

You Might Also Like

Gunnoe Appeals to President … Judge Dismisses Health Studies on Mountaintop Removal

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Decimates Fish Populations in Appalachia

How China’s Coal Addiction Could Make Fighting Climate Change ‘Almost Impossible’

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

Pexels
  • Mice exposed to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor developed lung cancer within a year.
  • More research is needed to know what this means for people who vape.
  • Other research has shown that vaping can cause damage to lung tissue.

A new study found that long-term exposure to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor increases the risk of cancer in mice.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Demonstrators with The Animal Welfare Institute hold a rally to save the vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise, outside the Mexican Embassy in DC on July 5, 2018. SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

Six months: That's how much time Mexico now has to report on its progress to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) from extinction.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

It may seem innocuous to flush a Q-tip down the toilet, but those bits of plastic have been washing up on beaches and pose a threat to the birds, turtles and marine life that call those beaches home. The scourge of plastic "nurdles," as they are called, has pushed Scotland to implement a complete ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic-stemmed cotton swabs, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
Air conditioners, like these in a residential and restaurant area of Singapore city, could put a massive strain on electricity grids during more intense heatwaves. Taro Hama @ e-kamakura / Moment / Getty Images

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the U.S. have added a new dimension to the growing hazard of extreme heat. As global average temperatures rise, so do the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Actress Jane Fonda is arrested on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on Oct. 11. Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Oscar-award winning actress and long-time political activist Jane Fonda was arrested on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Friday for peacefully protesting the U.S. government's inaction in combating the climate crisis, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
sam thomas / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Caroline Hickman

I'm up late at night worrying that my baby brothers may die from global warming and other threats to humanity – please can you put my mind at rest? – Sophie, aged 17, East Sussex, UK

Read More Show Less
Sheriff officials work the scene at Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Calimesa on Oct. 13. Jennifer Cappuccio Maher / MediaNews Group / Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / Getty Images

Three people have died in incidents related to two major wildfires in Southern California, The Los Angeles Times Reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less