CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin says he hasn't looked into new research that shows that babies born near Appalachian mountaintop removal sites have higher rates of birth defects."There's reports every day on something causing some kind of illness," Tomblin told the Gazette on Wednesday.In a study released last month, West Virginia University researchers found "significantly higher" rates of birth defects in mountaintop removal mining areas in central Appalachia, compared to other mining areas and non-mining areas.Tomblin, who is acting as governor, said he couldn't offer comment on the study.
"I'm not a researcher," he said. "Obviously it's sad when any child is born with birth defects."Tomblin made the remarks after holding a Capitol news conference where he called for the passage of federal legislation that would limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority to oversee states' implementation of the federal Clean Water Act.State lawmakers, as well as representatives of the West Virginia Coal Association, the West Virginia Business and Industry Council, and the United Mine Workers of America, joined Tomblin to show support for the federal legislation.The new study, published in the journal Environmental Research, examined 1.8 million birth records, using statistics from West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.Researchers compared the prevalence of birth defects in mountaintop removal mining areas, other coal mining areas and non-mining areas in central Appalachia between 1996 and 1999 and between 2000 and 2003.The overall rate of birth defects in mountaintop removal areas was 13 percent higher between 1996 and 1999, and 42 percent higher in the later period."Elevated birth defect rates are partly a function of socioeconomic disadvantage, but remain elevated after controlling for those risks," the authors wrote. "Both socioeconomic and environmental influences in mountaintop mining areas may be contributing factors."Study co-author Michael Hendryx, a WVU epidemiologist, has said the research is significant not only to coalfield residents, but also to policymakers.Reach Alison Knezevich at email@example.com