MTR And Birth Defects


The Association Between Mountaintop Mining and Birth Defects Among Live Births in Central Appalachia,1996–2003

Melissa Ahern, Michael Hendryx, Jamison Conley, Evan Fedorko,
Alan Ducatman, Keith Zullig

Environmental Research, 2011


Keywords:  MTR, Coal pollutants, health impacts, birth defects, ecological study, central Appalachia

Purpose:  Given evidence of greater levels of water and air pollution resulting from MTR compared to other types of mining, this study advances previous research regarding the health impacts of MTR.  It identifies areas within central Appalachia where mountaintop mining takes place and investigates if birth anomalies are greater in MTR areas relative to other mining areas and to non-mining areas after control for risk factors.

Important Finding:  This study found that six types of birth defects – circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and problems from “other” types of defects – occurred more frequently in areas near mountaintop removal mines. The results also showed a spatial correlation that suggests that mountaintop removal in one county may cause birth defects in nearby counties.

Significant Quotes:  “Findings show significantly higher prevalence rates for birth defects overall, and for six of seven types of anomalies examined in mountaintop mining areas versus other mining and non-mining areas… The [prevalence rate ratios] have become significantly worse in mountaintop mining areas in more recent years for four anomaly types and for birth anomalies overall.”

“The findings documented in this study contribute to the growing evidence that mountaintop mining is done at substantial expense to the environment, to local economies and to human health.”

Results:  Results extend previous research on low-birth-weight outcomes and on adult morbidity and mortality in mining areas by demonstrating increased rates of birth defects as an additional public health effect related to coal mining in Appalachia. Results also offer one of the first indications that disparities are concentrated specifically in mountaintop mining areas, and have become more pronounced as this type of mining activity has expanded.


Ahern, M., M. Hendryx, J. Conley, E. Fedorko, A. Ducatman, and K. Zullig. (2011) “The association between mountaintop mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996–2003.” Environmental Research.