Big Coal Lawyers Blame Inbreeding for Problems Caused by Mountaintop Removal

Monday, July 18, 2011
Mountaintop removal site at Kayford Mountain, W. VA. (Photo: AP)
Following release of a study linking a controversial coal-mining technique to birth defects, industry lawyers responded by insinuating the health problem was just as likely caused by inbreeding among local residents.
“The study failed to account for consanquinity [sic], one of the most prominent sources of birth defects,” the firm Crowell & Moring remarked in a statement, which added the attorneys were happy to help any coal companies looking to “counter unfounded claims of injury or disease” from potential lawsuits prompted by the study. The term consanguinity is a relationship by blood often used to infer a kinship with a common ancestor.
The statement was posted on Crowell & Moring’s website for more than a week, before a reporter for the Charleston Gazette blogged about the inbreeding crack. It was then taken down.
As for the study, West Virginia University associate professor and report coauthor Michael Hendryx said the information they published offered “one of the first indications that health problems are disproportionately concentrated” in areas where companies use mountaintop removal methods to extract coal. The process results in enormous amounts of waste being dumped into nearby streams, polluting local water supplies.
Hendryx and other researchers examined about 2 million central Appalachia birth records from 1996 to 2003, and came to the conclusion that children born near mountaintop mining operations suffered higher rates of birth defects, including central nervous system, musculoskeletal, urogenital and circulatory and respiratory problems.
In January, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, citing the Clean Water Act, rescinded a permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine, the first time it had taken such action in its history. But the coal company vowed to continue its quest for a mountaintop removal permit and earlier in July the House of Representatives passed a bill that impairs the EPA from enforcing federal water pollution regulations by denying it the power to overrule state agencies.
President Obama has vowed to veto the bill if it passes the Senate and reaches his desk.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Fewer Mountaintops, More Birth Defects (by Gavin Aronsen, Mother Jones)
West Virginia, Incest Virginia? (by Juliette Lapidos, Slate)
EPA Stops Largest Mountaintop Removal Mine (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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