Jennifer Loren put together an outstanding story (including a series of videos) about a battle between the coal industry and some local residents in Oklahoma over whether and how fly ash should be regulated.

From NewsOn6.com, here are a few excerpts:

Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to decide if it should regulate an industrial byproduct called Fly Ash. It’s a battle that pits environmentalists against the $66 billion US coal industry. A group of small-town Oklahomans have inserted themselves into the middle of the battle because they say fly ash is killing them, literally.

Trains ship billions of tons of coal into Oklahoma every year to be burned at coal-fired electric power plants. The byproduct of burned coal is a powdery substance called Coal Combustion Waste, more commonly called fly ash. . . .

There are at least 12 fly ash sites scattered across Oklahoma, but none bigger than the one in Bokoshe. It’s an old mine that’s being “reclaimed” with the fly ash, but it’s 55 feet tall and covers more than 20 acres. It’s about a mile from the center of Bokoshe.

The lone cafe in town, Sassy’s, has become headquarters for the people of Bokoshe, fighting in the battle of their lives. It’s a battle against big coal, power companies and it turns out, the very state agencies put in place to protect them.

“They thought that they could come into a town of about 450 people and they could do pretty much what they wanted to do and that we would sit back and allow them to do so, but they underestimated their opponent,” said Sharon Tanksley, Bokoshe Resident.

It took seven years living in a haze of fly ash, but small town Oklahoma won their first battle against the state last year. They proved to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality that the ash was being dumped illegally and blanketing their town in harmful chemicals. DEQ now requires that water is mixed with the ash to keep it from contaminating the air.

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Lifelong resident, Charles Tackett, said he believes their victory came too late.

“We have had a very bad rash of cancers and respiratory problems,” Tackett said.

Tackett said people in 14 of the 20 families living closest to the dump have died from or are living with cancer.

In the local sixth grade classroom, fly ash is often a topic of discussion. The children have learned the environmental effects of the dust they breathed for so many years. They said they’re living with the health effects.

“Would you raise your hands please if you have respiratory problems?” asked the teacher. Half the class raised their hands. Nine out of the 17 sixth graders have asthma. That’s six times the national average.

Bokoshe residents cannot prove their health problems are caused by the fly ash, but fly ash contains dozens of chemicals proven to be harmful. EPA documents show the local power plant dumped fly ash containing more than 56,000 pounds of arsenic compounds, 1,100 hundred pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead at the site in 2007 alone.

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The entire story and a series of videos here.   Image source here.

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