Op-Ed

Birth-defects report an unfair attack on coal

Just when I think I've seen it all, I am stunned into jaw-dropping disbelief.

The media reported a study that says babies born in areas near mountaintop-mining sites were 26 percent more likely to suffer birth defects.

As usual, Kentucky's two largest newspapers cherry-picked information from the study, highlighting the sensational and scary while ignoring basic facts — some within the report itself — to further what appears to be their mission to devastate the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky.

The report claims that air- and water-quality disturbances caused by mountaintop mining are responsible for birth defects at a higher rate than in non-mining areas.

Yet one of the study's co-authors, Michael Hendryx, admits in the Herald-Leader article, "Technically it's true that we don't have direct environmental data that we can link in this study."

In that same article, Hendryx acknowledges that he believes "mountaintop removal is harmful and should be stopped."

Is this unbiased research?

The report also states that "mothers in the mountaintop-mining area had less education, were more likely to smoke, were less likely to have prenatal care."

Drug addiction has to be considered as a contributor to birth defects, as well as alcohol abuse and maternal health issues like diabetes.

We all know that those factors themselves — without environmental contributors — increase birth defects exponentially, no matter what geographic area is being studied.

The lack of comparison to those other factors continues to stain and discredit these kinds of studies on the evils of mountaintop removal.

Where is the comparison of birth defects in urban areas where air pollution alerts are issued throughout the summer and where water degradation from manufacturing plants is a constant threat?

How about showing us statistics on birth defects in agricultural areas where runoff from chemicals in the soil taints water streams and creek beds?

In fact, a well-documented study conducted by the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, which shed great light on the state's top industrial contributors to water pollution, is conveniently ignored — again.

The state's top culprit of water degradation, according to that study, is agriculture. Urban runoff is No. 2, and road construction is No.3. Mining is No. 4.

But you won't see that study on the front pages of our papers. Why not? Because there is a concerted effort to blame coal mining for all things bad in Kentucky.

Sadly, Kentucky's liberal media have bought into this theory and have even joined the ranks of groups such as Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in the effort to eradicate coal mining, leaving journalistic balance and fairness in the dust.

I support a healthful environment. I champion clean air and streams. And I certainly want all of our babies to be born healthy.

Studies that lean on bias, personal agendas and preconceived notions undercut these goals by taking our eyes off of these very important missions.

Using birth defects to further a political agenda is wrong, and the media should be ashamed of publicizing this propaganda.

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