MTR And Cancer


Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and without Mountaintop Coal Mining

Michael Hendryx, Leah Wolfe, Juhua Luo and Bo Webb

Journal of Community Health, 2011


Keywords: Mountaintop coal mining, cancer, community-based participatory research, West Virginia

Purpose: The purpose of this study was threefold: First, to compare cancer rates in two rural West Virginia communities: one with MTR and one without any mining. Second, it was to do a “person level” study of health impacts of mining in Appalachia, in contrast to existing studies that have focused only on county-level data and statistics.  Third, while many studies exist regarding the health problems in coal mining areas, few exist specifically for MTR regions, and this study aims to focus on that.

Important Finding: Cancer rates are twice as high in MTR communities as compared to non-MTR communities. If we apply the rates found in this study to the entire Appalachian MTR region, this results in 5% higher cancer rates (14.4% vs. 9.4%), or an additional 60,000 people with cancer in central Appalachian MTR communities.

Good Quote: “The results of this study and others previously cited on coal mining populations demonstrate that health disparities are concentrated in mountaintop mining areas of the region; clearly, the national goal to eliminate Appalachian health disparities will not be achieved unless disparities are eliminated in mountaintop mining areas.”

Results: Volunteers went door to door in an MTR-affected community along the Coal River in Boone and Raleigh Counties and a non-coal mining community in southern Pocahontas County, gathering data on 773 people (409 surveys in the Coal River and 360 in Pocahontas).  All respondents were 18 years and older, and they all spoke English.

Surveys included whether they had been diagnosed with cancer; length of time living in their community; whether they had worked as a coal miner; and tobacco use. 

Coal River residents had higher rates of cancer (59 individuals compared to 34 in Pocahontas). When the researchers ran analyses that accounted for all variables, the odds ratio was 2.03, meaning that the odds for reporting cancer were twice as high in the Coal River community, in ways not explained by age, sex, occupational exposure, or family cancer history.  What’s more stark about these figures is that they do not account for people who have already died from cancer.


Hendryx, M., L. Wolfe, J. Luo, and B. Webb.  (2011) “Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia with and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining.”  Journal of Community Health.