A new study indicates that communities near mountaintop removal mining sites have a higher incidence of depression than communities without such sites.
West Virginia University researchers Michael Hendryx and Kestrel A. Innes-Wimsatt released this study, “Increased Risk of Depression for People Living in Coal Mining Areas of Central Appalachia,” in the Sept. 27 issue of Ecopsychology. In it, they analyze county-level data from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, comparing counties with mountaintop removal sites to counties without and adjusting their data for unrelated factors.
Their conclusion: Residents of communities where mountaintop removal is practiced have a 40 percent greater chance of showing risk factors for developing major depression than those in communities with no mining or with different forms of mining.
“[R]esiding in an area where [mountaintop removal] is practiced was significantly associated with levels of mild and moderate depression, but not severe depression,” the study says. “Levels of moderate depression are serious enough to indicate risk of major depression diagnosis.”
The researchers point to other research that show disruptions in the natural environment can have an effect on those residing in that environment.
“Studies have documented this connection, finding that both physical and mental well-being are enhanced by proximity to parks, gardens, wilderness areas, and other natural features,” the study says. “It follows that the disturbance or elimination of these natural features may lead to distress or psychological harm.”
The study also noted that risk factors in mountaintop removal areas were even higher than the 40 percent figure cited in the study, but that other factors also played a role.
The paper is the latest in a string of studies authored or co-authored by Hendryx which point to health effects of mountaintop removal. In previous studies, Hendryx and others have found mountaintop removal to lead to higher rates of all-cause mortality, cancer mortality, coronary heart disease morbidity, and chronic cardiovascular disease mortality.
“The links between mountaintop removal and poor health in surrounding communities are strong and cannot be dismissed by attributing them to other known factors,” Hendryx said in a statement released Monday. “A thorough health study is essential to understand the cause of these illnesses, and a pause in new permitting needs to be instituted until we have that understanding.”
The full study can be found at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/eco.2013.0029.
Ralph B. Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.