The decline of the coal industry and the associated ongoing bankruptcies of large coal companies create a serious concern that surface coal mining states may inherit large-scale liabilities for unremediated coal mines. These states may also have limited funding to remediate all abandoned mines at once, requiring prioritization of the cleanup of coal mines. In West Virginia and central Appalachia, these coal mines are often located in areas ranked as having poor public health outcomes, poor health factors, and extremely low-socioeconomic status. Epidemiological research has associated poor health outcomes for residents located near coal mining. Coal mine remediation presents an opportunity to improve the environment of the coalfields and perhaps improve health in communities surrounded by coal mines, as well as those downstream of polluted mining water discharges. By examining factors uniquely associated with the central Appalachia and West Virginia coalfields, a conceptual model that demonstrates how community health can be considered as a factor for prioritization of resources in remediation of abandoned coal mines was developed. The model utilizes health concerns specific to West Virginia and central Appalachia, relies on data already collected by the state, and identifies areas of the state with vulnerable health populations. Because this conceptual model is tailored to specific state concerns and existing state data, this model would be cost-effective as an off-the-shelf model for state agencies, and it could also be prospectively used when permitting new pollutant sources, such as new coal mines or natural gas drill sites and pipelines.
Surber, S.J. A conceptual model for integrating community health in managing remediation of West Virginia and central Appalachia’s abandoned coal mines. Environ Dev Sustain 23, 1563–1578 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-020-00638-9