Mining in the Appalachians, West Virginia, and Health Consequences to neighboring population.

Mining in the Appalachians, West Virginia, and Health Consequences to neighboring population.

Jul 16th, 2015

Mining in the Appalachians, West Virginia, and Health Consequences

We have recently read about US Federal officials planning to recommend the National Academy of Sciences to review a series of studies that have found residents living near mountaintop removal mining operations facing increased rates of serious illnesses and premature death.

Hobet Mountaintop mine West Virginia

Hobet Mountaintop mine West Virginia. Photo by NASA

The request is a consequence of more than two dozens of peer-reviewed publications by Former West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx and other scientists stating that residents living near mountaintop removal mines face a greater risk of cancer, birth defects and premature death.

The studies will show if there is direct causality link between the considered rate increase and direct effects such as inhalation of fine dusts, ingestion contaminants and other nefarious health effects.

However, this case made us think about some risk assessments we have prepared for mining, but also for other industries, where we introduced in the multidimensional consequence function of operations (mishaps) various aspects of “life changing units”, as introduced in the late ’60s by Holmes and Rae.

The two psychiatrists evaluated 5,000 medical patients asking them to say whether they had experience any of a series of 43 life events in the previous two years. Each event, called a Life Change Unit (LCU), had a different “weight” for stress. The more events the patient added up, the higher the score. The higher the score, and the larger the weight of each event, the more likely the patient was to become ill. Holmes and Rae finally developed what became known as the Holmes and Rae Stress Scale.

The bullet list below shows some of the events (there are many more) that may relate to the development of a nearby industrial/mining operation, accidental contamination (think about Fukushima exclusion zone, for example), a natural catastrophe or even a severe cyber-attack that may force significant changes on the exposed public.

  • Change to a different line of work
  • Change in living conditions
  • Revision of personal habits
  • Change in recreation

Even if no direct causality link between the considered rate increase and direct effects is proven, a Holmes and Rae Stress Scale test should be performed on the population to evaluate if LCUs have contributed to the rate increase.

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Category: Consequences, Mitigations, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability

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