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What Do Ironman Triathlons and Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Have in Common?

My 17-year-old son does not have to go to bed at night fearing that he will be burned out of his home and bed because I am working against MTR.  I’m not going to be run off the road, my truck overturned and left to my fate because of my activism.  I am not a 12-year-old girl who will die of ovarian cancer.  I’m not a baby who will be born with a birth defect that will follow me for the rest of my life, because I happened to be born in an MTR region.  My children are not in the path of a 9-billion gallon dump that holds back the toxic byproduct of MTR, by means of an earthen dam.  I can drink my water and not worry that it will ruin my health or kill me.

That is precisely what happens to people who live in mountaintop removal regions.  Those reminders of the difficulties of those living in MTR regions help me to realize that I may be facing a monumental task with my attempt at an Ironman, but it could be much worse.

That is why, when my friend Bo Webb asked me to dedicate my Ironman to helping to raise money for the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, I was honored and happy to help.  So, I’ll run the ChesapeakeMan Endurance Festival USATMA Ultra Championship Triathlon on Sept. 21, 2013 pass the ACHE Act.  The ACHE Act team will continue their heroic work to pass the Act.

According to a press release by the ACHE Act team, a growing body of scientific studies demonstrates that mountaintop removal is a human health crisis.  For example, babies in mountaintop removal areas are 42% more likely to be born with birth defects. In comparison, maternal smoking increases the risk by 18%.  A 2011 study found that residents of the Coal River Valley of West Virginia are more than twice as likely to have cancer as a community without mountaintop removal. West Virginia has pockets of childhood asthma with rates as high as 25%, three times the national average, a likely consequence of the dust and chemical residue released by mountaintop removal blasting.

The mountaintop removal process begins with clear-cutting the forest. Coal companies then use over 5 million pounds of explosives per day to blast the mountains of Central Appalachia into rubble. Over a million acres of mountains have been impacted.  ACHE coordinator and West Virginia resident Bo Webb said, “With coal operators detonating the daily equivalent of 4,000 cruise missiles above our communities, it’s no wonder that the people are sick and dying.  We need the ACHE Act to protect us, and we appreciate Karyn’s heroic support for the cause.”

Responding to the pleas of regional residents, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the ACHE Act in Feb. 2013.  The Act, HR 526, requires the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to conduct or support comprehensive studies on the health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on individuals in the surrounding communities. During the period of the health study the ACHE Act also prohibits authorization for any new mountaintop removal coal mining projects (or expansion), under the Clean Water Act or the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, until and unless the Secretary of Health and Human Services publishes a determination that such mining does not present any health risk to individuals in the surrounding communities.

Karyn Strickler is a political scientist, grassroots organizer, electoral and advocacy campaign expert.

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