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June 23, 2011

Children born near mountaintop removal mining of coal are 26% more likely to suffer birth defects than those near other types of mining or no mining, says a new study.

Researchers from Washington State University and West Virginia University analyzed nearly two million births in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia between 1996 and 2003 from the National Center for Health Statistics.

They found that children in counties where companies use a process called mountaintop removal mining to access coal deposits had higher rates of birth defects in six of seven categories, including birth defects of the circulatory and respiratory system, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal system and genitals.

The study entitled The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003 appears in the journal Environmental Research.

"Circulatory and respiratory effects really stood out," study researcher Melissa M. Ahern, Associate Professor of Washington State University’s College of Pharmacy, told USA Today. "These are costly to the health care system and involve a lot of human suffering. I would think public health officials would be interested."

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