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An examination of the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining on respiratory symptoms and COPD using propensity scores

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Previous research on public health consequences of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining has been limited by the observational nature of the data. The current study used propensity scores, a method designed to overcome this limitation, to draw more confident causal inferences about mining effects on respiratory health using non-experimental data. These data come from a health survey of 682 adults residing in two rural areas of Virginia, USA characterized by the presence or absence of MTR mining. Persons with a history of occupational exposure as coal miners were excluded. Nine covariates including age, sex, current and former smoking, overweight, obesity, high school education, college education, and exposure to coal as a home-heating source were selected to estimate propensity scores. Propensity scores were tested for balance and then used as weights to create quasi-experimental exposed and unexposed groups. Results indicated that persons in the mountaintop mining group had significantly (p < 0.0001) elevated prevalence of respiratory symptoms and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The results suggest that impaired respiratory health results from exposure to MTR environments and not from other risks.
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Keywords: Appalachia; COPD; coal mining; propensity score; respiratory health

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Applied Health Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA 2: Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

Publication date: May 4, 2015

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