USGS research geochemist Bill Orem, the principal investigator, said water in mining areas had unusually high acid and electrical conductivity levels in the water, air had abnormal levels of particulates, and soil and streams had irregular levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. "Several PAH compounds are probable or possible human carcinogens," Su notes. Orem said results are preliminary and research is still being conducted, but soil samples from mining areas were "certainly different" from those in non-mining areas, and that airborne silica particles, known to cause lung disease, were "definitely higher."
Orem said the USGS will be "prudent" to connect preliminary data to actual health problems in the region that have been documented in controversial correlation studies by West Virginia University public health professor Michael Hendryx. "You have to be conservative in your statements," Orem said. "It can't be driven by people's feelings. It has to be a scientific, data-driven process." (Read more)