A new study from West Virginia University has found that dust generated from mountaintop removal coal mining promotes the growth of lung cancer tumors.
The study, published online Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, was conducted to verify previous statistical evidence linking lung cancer and coal mining operations. Michael Hendryx, a former WVU researcher and co-author of the most recent study, has been investigating the link for over half a decade.
His previous work on the subject found that lung cancer mortality over a four-year period was higher in Appalachian coal mining areas than elsewhere, even when other factors, such as smoking and poverty, were taken into account.
The purpose of this latest WVU study was to investigate the long-term carcinogenic effects of particulate matter on human lung cells. Researchers found that chronic exposure (three months) to mountaintop removal matter could induce neoplastic transformation, accelerated cell proliferation and enhanced cell migration of the bronchial epithelial cells.
While the data does not “indicate tumor initiation,” it does show “lung tumor promotion and progression.” According to the study’s authors, “Our finding strengthens previous epidemiological studies linking [mountaintop removal] to increased incidence of lung cancer, and supports adoption of prevention strategies and exposure control.”
Speaking to the West Virginia Gazette, Hendryx said, “To me, this is one of the most important papers that we’ve done. There hasn’t been a direct link between environmental data and human data until this study.”
The larger implication of the study is that the dust creates environmental conditions that are cancer promoting. Whereas previous studies “have been criticized for being only correlational studies of illness in mining communities,” said Hendryx, “with this study we have solid evidence that mining dust collected from residential communities causes cancerous human lung cell changes.”