West Virginia University on Friday asked the news media not to use the phrase "WVU study" to refer to research by university faculty members, saying the findings of academic papers don't reflect the position of the school.

In an email to the Gazette-Mail, WVU spokesman John Bolt said the request to news media "was not developed in reaction to any particular research being conducted on campus."

 Bolt said a new university "statement" about faculty research was intended as "an effort to explain the role of research at an institution such as WVU and clarify that the institution itself

 takes no position on the findings -- except in the sense of supporting a researcher's right to do research and reach supportable conclusions.

 "The findings of any particular research project do not reflect -- nor should they -- any particular opinion or position of the university itself," Bolt said in the email.

 The move comes as a series of peer-reviewed papers by a WVU faculty member about mountaintop removal's potential negative public health effects are receiving widespread media coverage and intense criticism from the coal industry.

 Over the past four years, Michael Hendryx, an associate professor in the WVU Medical School's Department of Community Medicine, has co-authored at least 19 papers that examine associations between high rates of illnesses and living near coal-mining operations.

 Most recently, Hendryx co-authored papers that found significantly higher rates of birth defects among residents near mountaintop removal operations in central Appalachia and high rates of cancer among residents near such operations along the Coal River Valley in Southern West Virginia. Another paper, published in July, found high rates of poverty in the region clustered around major surface mines.

 The work has been covered by a variety of media outlets, from a nationally televised CNN documentary to the National Public Radio environmental program "Living on Earth."

 Hendryx has been harshly criticized by the coal industry. One industry lobby group hired a consulting firm to try to discredit his work, and an industry law firm alleged that any increased birth defect rate in Appalachia could be related to inbreeding among the region's residents.

 Also for WVU, Hendryx's boss, community medicine director Alan Ducatman, is leading a team of university faculty members who have published a series of papers about the impact of the toxic chemical C8, made by DuPont Co. in Parkersburg, on human health.

 Ducatman is acting dean of WVU's planned School of Public Health, and university officials have issued statements praising his work providing "assistance to communities, government agencies, courts and others in the evaluation and assessment of health risks associated with environmental hazards and industrial operations."