Coal Health Study Blog

Background on the Coal Health Study

Open-cast coal-mining is a method of extracting coal from the earth by first removing the overlying soil and rock, then extracting the underlying coal.  During this procedure, large quantities of particulate matter of varying composition are lofted into the atmosphere.  The end result of open-cast mining is a sheared-off mountaintop and a large open pit.  In the event that they are undertaken, restoration activities include replacing some portion of the rock and/or filling the remaining pit with water.

The Douglasdale area of Scotland is currently host to multiple, simultaneously operating, open-cast coal mines.  In recent years the number of active open-cast mining operations have increased in the Douglasdale area; this increase been accompanied by the perception of residents that their neighbors are increasingly afflicted by lung-related illnesses, cancers, and by coronary disease.

In the absence of large-scale precipitation events, the residence time of such small particles in the atmosphere can be weeks, leaving the particles sufficient time to travel significant distances even at low wind speeds.  There has as yet been no independent study commissioned on the health effects of open-cast coal extraction — in particular, regarding the persistent inhalation of small (2.5microns or less) dust and diesel exhaust particulates — on residents of Douglasdale, South Lanarkshire.

Considering the physical extent of the ongoing open-cast extraction operations in the area, when a new proposal to extract a further 1.7 million tonnes of coal was under consideration for the area, local residents disputed the necessity of further concurrent operations and opposed passage of the proposal.  The site at Mainshill was nonetheless approved by the local council in February 2009, conditional to the performance of a further ecological assay.

No further ecological assay was performed on the Mainshill site. Instead, a significant proportion of the site was clearfelled by the mining company, Scottish Coal, and exploratory drilling begun.  The site at Mainshill was subsequently illegally inhabited by a number of activists who oppose the extraction on the basis of the ecological degredation it will embody.  Despite an eviction notice that was served on them, the activists have been in residence at Mainshill for nearly 2 months, and are generally supported by the local community with donations of food, water, and clothing.

From August 3 until 11 August, another group of activists took up residence at the Mainshill site, and formed the first Scottish Camp for Climate Action.  The Scottish Camp for Climate Action auspiced the Scotland Indymedia tent onsite at Mainshill, which tent in turn auspiced Kirstie Stramler, who in conjunction with the local community, performed a preliminary investigation comparing the health of a nearby seaside town with the health of populations subject to multiple concurrent open-cast coal extraction operations.  Two activists, also working with Indymedia, were instrumental in producing the study — Ross Corbutt gamely undertook the desktop publishing and Nicholas Roberts the project management.

The resulting study, conducted using freely available public data, clearly demonstrates a need for further study.  The preliminary analysis of disease incidence and mortality indicates that there are significant differences between baseline health statistics and those in areas in which there are open-cast coal mines. Such readily apparent differences warrant the halt of further expansion of open-cast coal mining in the region until it is determined, by commissioned epidemiological study, what the tolerably safe level of concurrent open-cast coal mining is.

The authentic version of the Scottish Camp for Climate Action pamphlet that arose from this series of events,  The Adverse Effects of Open-cast Coal Mining, is only available from this website.  Questions or comments can be directed to Kirstie Stramler, Ph.D. at .

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