CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s chief health officer says it’s time to take a closer look at research that says those living close to mountaintop removal mining sites have an increased chance of getting serious illnesses.

“We take all body of research in the science world and we put it together and we do a meta-analysis see if this is an issue or not,” Dr. Rahul Gupta told MetroNews Tuesday evening. “I think that’s one of the things we’re looking to at least look at.”

The Charleston Gazette recently reported that state DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said the studies deserved a closer look. Gupta said Tuesday the state Bureau of Public Health would join with the DEP.

“We are certainly willing to help to the extent we can with our limited resources and infrastructure, but we do not hesitate in asking for help and that’s exactly what we plan to do in asking our federal partners (CDC and others) to help in assessing that.”

Residents gathered for a Monday rally outside state DEP headquarters in Charleston told MetroNews it was past time to take the research seriously and it was time to end to mountaintop removal mining.

“It needs to end. It’s killing people in communities. The only people it’s unaffected by is our politicians,” said Boone County resident Marie Gunnoe, a community outreach organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. She said studies show MTR connected to growth of lung cancer cells, asthma, and heart defects in children.

Dr. Gupta said he wants to make sure the data from the studies is used for the right purpose.

“The right purpose is always to evaluate the science and the data that’s out there,” he said. “Single studies by themselves don’t have a lot of meaning unless you look at the big body of research.”

Gupta said he didn’t know how long it would take to gather the information and complete the analysis but he said it has reached a point where something needs to be done.

“As the body of research develops I think it’s incumbent upon the scientific community, especially public health community, to at least look at it and see, with a rigorous lens, that data and evaluate it,” Gupta said.

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