People who live near coal-burning power plants have as high as a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer and have an increased risk of damage to their lungs, kidneys, liver and other organs, according to a 2009 report by environmental legal advocacy group, Earthjustice. Elisa Young, a resident of Meigs County, Ohio, the site of the country’s second-largest concentration of coal-firing plants, says she’s seen the havoc coal waste has wreaked on her family and friends. “I’ve lost neighbors to lung cancer who have never smoked,” she told Huffington Post. “I’ve lost them to brain cancer, breast, throat , colon, multiple myeloma, pre-leukemia. … There isn’t a house on this road that hasn’t been touched by cancer.”
Even Young has gotten sick. She was diagnosed with melanoma and two precancerous conditions in her breast and thyroid. She says dogs living in the area have died from cancer. She has since become an environmental activist, fighting for government regulations for plants that store coal waste in an effort to save others from getting sick. It’s an uphill battle.
Coal ash is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a non-hazardous material and thus is exempt from federal regulation. The December 2008 spill from a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal-firing plant in east Tennessee that dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic material onto a rural neighborhood and into the Emory River brought national attention to the safety of coal ash. Coal waste contains dangerous toxins and heavy metals that have been found to cause serious health problems, including cancer.
Following a year-long investigation into the safety and storage of coal ash at sites nationwide, the EPA proposed new guidelines for the plants. Despite nearly 35 meetings between representatives of coal ash industries and members of the White House Office of Information Regulatory Affairs, action has yet to be taken.
Meanwhile, the TVA’s three-year, $1 billion cleanup of the spilled coal ash in east Tennessee continues. That process includes shipping tons of the recovered coal ash across state lines to a landfill in Perry County, Alabama, a poor and predominantly black community. Despite outcries from residents concerned about their health, the shipments keep on coming.