Sarawak biggest coal mine at Pila Merit, near Kapit.

New US studies found that a  “significantly higher” rates of birth defects among babies born near mountaintop removal mining sites (MTR) than those in non-mining areas.

The mining study, published in the journal Environmental Research, examined over 1.8 million live birth records from 1996 to 2003 using National Center for Health Statistics data from the central Appalachian states of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The studies discovered that six out of seven types of birth defects — circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and “other” — were increased near mountaintop removal sites.

The research suggests fetal development are impaired by contaminants release into nearby environments from MTR.

“Rates for any anomaly were approximately 235 per 100,000 live births in the mountaintop mining area versus 144 per 100,000 live births in the non-mining area,” the study says.

Although not as high as near MTR sites, it also found increased incidences of birth defects in communities near underground mines.

“This is monumental,” said Bob Kincaid, the president of Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW).

He told The Huffington Post that this latest research is just one more among a dozen or so earlier studies “that shows that the coal industry, especially mountaintop removal, is engaged in the wholesale poisoning of Appalachia.”

“For those who actually pay attention to science, it’s irrefutable,” Kincaid said. “Would it be more obvious if the coal industry were using machine guns or gas chambers?”

Similar patterns were also discovered in another studies done by West Virginia University researcher.

Researcher Michael Hendryx  who has over the last couple of years been doing fascinating and important work about coal’s impacts on Appalachia in his study concludes that the human cost of the region coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits.

Hendry said  the idea that coal is good for West Virginia and other Appalachian communities, and recommends that political leaders consider other alternatives for improving the region’s economy and quality of life.

“The coal industry generates a little more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region.

“But, they put the value of premature deaths attributable to the mining industry across the Appalachian coalfields at — by a most conservative estimate — $42 billion,” Hendry said.

The US studies, however unlikely to trigger an alarm in Malaysia, particularly Sarawak – due to coal demand has been steadily declining over the years and low environmental awareness on the impacts of coal mining.

BP Statistical Energy Survey, 2010 reported, Malaysia coal consumption merely 0.12% of the world total or 4 million tonnes oil equivalent.

Malaysia’s coal reserves are located primarily in Sarawak and Sabah, with smaller deposits in Selangor, Perlis and Perak.

The country total estimated coal resources stand at just more than 1 000 Mt, which are considered as strategic in terms of Malaysia’s power requirements.

Malaysia actively promotes coal as a fuel of choice for power generation in order to free up more of its natural gas for export.

PanGlobal is the operator of the largest coal mine in Malaysia. In Sarawak the company (via Global Minerals) biggest coal mine is located at Merit-Pila region near Kapit.