Coal Health Study Blog


New Release: Coal Health Study, Douglasdale Edition

Douglasdale Edition of the Coal Health Study

An extended version of the Coal Health Study has been prepared for use by Douglasdale residents, and some 1400 copies have been locally generated and distributed in anticipation of Doctor van Steenis’ upcoming lecture.  This Douglasdale edition of the Coal Health Study is available for download here:

New:  Douglasdale Edition of the Coal Health Study, 11 Sep. 2009 [PDF, 1MB]

The Douglasdale edition contains several additions, including a striking table of NHS health indicators disaggregated by postcode, and a more thorough literature review that incorporates relevant studies published in Europe, the United Kingdom, India, and the United States.

Of the 16 peer-reviewed studies cited in the Douglasdale edition, 12 examine the incidence of and/or mortality from disease in populations living near open-cast coal mining operations, 2 quantify the quantity and characteristics of the dust emitted, 1 demonstrates that COPD is a precursor to lung cancer irrespective of smoking history, and 1 explains the mechanism whereby pollutants act to damage lung tissue.

Assessing Particulate Pollution near Open-cast Extraction Operations

Open-cast coal extraction involves the lofting of particulates generated by mechanical disruption of the earth’s crust by drilling and transport, as well as the lofting of particulates generated by the combustion of extremely large quantities of low-quality diesel fuel.

Both types of open-cast particulates require further study in order to assess (1) their densities (density in this case refers to the quantity of particulate mass per cubic volume of air), (2) the distribution of particle sizes generated, and (3) the atmospheric lifetimes of all sizes of particulates present.

A further complicating factor is that after their initial generation and settling to the earth’s surface,  particulates appear to be continually re-lofted by passing coal transport lorries and by regular vehicular traffic on local roads.  This re-lofting extends the atmospheric lifetime and cycling of particulates in a manner that cannot be described by atmospheric physics alone, but can be assessed by monitoring particulate densities and size distributions in local villages.

Absolute and Relative Rates of Douglasdale COPD Incidence

To reduce printing costs, the new Douglasdale edition does not contain every graph that reinforces the conclusions of the preliminary Coal Health Study.   The figure below illustrates the absolute rates of COPD at the four sites examined in the Coal Health Study:  Dalmellington, formerly the site of 10 operational open-cast coal mines, Douglasdale, currently the site of 3 operational open-cast coal mines, Prestwick, a nearby seaside town, and the UK.

Number of cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease diagnosed at two open-cast coal mining sites and at two control sites.

Number of cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease diagnosed at two open-cast coal mining sites and at two control sites.

In Dalmellington, the COPD incidence is unusually high, at 7.6%, which is 5 times the UK average of 1.5%.  The Douglasdale incidence values are currently 2.4 times the UK average.

Normalized cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease diagnosed at two open-cast coal mining sites and at two control sites.  Normalization was performed by dividing each yearly incidence value at a site by the 2004-5 incidence value.  This is done for purposes of comparison, to see what incidence would like like if all sites began at the same COPD incidence.

Normalized cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease diagnosed at two open-cast coal mining sites and at two control sites. Normalization was performed by dividing each yearly incidence value at a site by the 2004-5 incidence value. This is done for purposes of comparison, to see what incidence would like like if all sites began at the same COPD incidence.

This figure demonstrates that the rate of COPD is increasing much faster at Douglasdale than at any other site considered, up 63% from 2005, concurrent with the increasing extent of open-cast coal mining activities in the area.   At the current trajectory of the Douglasdale curve, Douglasdale would attain the value of absolute Dalmellington COPD incidence in 6 or 7 years.

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2 Responses to 'New Release: Coal Health Study, Douglasdale Edition'

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  1. Sandra Smith said,

    I live in Omiston in East Lothian. Midlothian Council has a proposal from Scottish Coal to Opencast mine at Airfield Farm. I would appreciate any information or advice on how to try to stop this.

    At present I am crossing swords with a Norman Buchanan, a mining engineer from Tranent in the local paper the East Lothian Courier. He thinks we should all stop moaning about it and be grateful for the 50 or so jobs being brought to the area although most will be transferred from sites being closed. Ormiston Tynmount & Elphinstone, is downwind of the site, and our community is only 430 metres from the proposed site, it is my opinion our children will be poisoned by the dust, and our village ruined by the project.

    I was totally unaware there was any opencast mining in Britain till this happened. The information I have found so far has convinced me opencast should be banned within a 3 mile radius of any community and I am amazed Nicola Sturgeon has not done anything to help. I suppose being the token woman in Alex’s cabinet will not give her much clout. I would be interested in contacting groups in any other area affected.

    • coalhealthadmin said,

      Scotland has extensive coal reserves (e.g. see 2008 “saleable opencast production” map in this Guardian UK article) and looks to be one of the most heavily mined areas in Europe, since no recent opencast mine bid in Scotland has ever been rejected.

      If the fate of the village of Douglas is taken as a precedent, then you are correct in both your health concerns and in your economic concerns for your own village. Various community groups, doctors, organizations, and committed individuals in the US, the UK, and Australia are in the beginning stages of developing and deploying strategies to slow, mitigate, and halt the damaging effects of open-cast coal mines.

      As I am not a political scientist, but rather a physical scientist, I cannot officially advise you on topics other than factual observations and science. As a concerned citizen of the world, I can however, give you my personal and unofficial opinion on how to proceed, and will do so via email.


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