Geographical aspects of human health impacts of surface mining in Central Appalachia

Authors: Korine Kolivras*, Virginia Tech, Molly McKnight, Virginia Tech, Julia Gohlke, Virginia Tech, Leigh-Anne Krometis, Virginia Tech, Linsey Marr, Virginia Tech, Shyam Ranganathan, Virginia Tech, Thomas Pingel, Virginia Tech
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Global Change
Keywords: surface mining, Central Appalachia, human health, birth outcome, air quality
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Significant human health disparities exist in Central Appalachia, yet there has been minimal research examining potential links with resource extraction, a dominant economic activity in the region. In particular, surface mining has dominated Central Appalachia’s landscape, and previous studies have examined ecological impacts of mining activities, but human health impacts of changed air and water quality due to surface mining have been neglected.
This paper presents an overview of our study in which we seek to improve upon previous county-scale research examining human health impacts of surface mining through a fine-scale analysis of birth outcomes from 1990-2015 in Central Appalachia (including parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky), with a particular focus on air quality impacts. Following the demarcation of annual surface mine extents using Landsat data, airsheds around surface mines were then delineated to estimate exposure to particulate matter from mining activities. Using linear and logistic regression, we evaluated potential links between an airshed exposure metric and birth outcomes, including pre-term birth and birthweight in grams, at multiple spatial scales (individual, Census tracts, county, and non-administrative grids). We found that surface mining airsheds are significantly negatively associated with both birth outcomes at all four spatial scales. We argue that a fine-scale analysis provides more robust results that can readily guide policy decisions designed to reduce the human health impacts of mining, but broad-scale analyses are also valid given our finding that relationships are significant at multiple spatial scales.

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