Sunday, June 21, 2015

Coal Ash Is, Too, Hazardous To Your Health

Coal ash dust blowing off Cape Fear plant's coal ash pond near Corinth Rd, photo by Susan Poe, April 3, Good Friday, 2015.

On June 18, 2015, I had the privilege of meeting Esther Calhoun, President of the Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, based in Uniontown, Alabama, which received 4 million+ tons of coal ash from the Kingston, TN. spill of 2008.  Esther’s T-shirt read: “I can’t breathe.”  She smiled easily.  She talked freely.  Her message to us here in southeastern Chatham and northern Lee Counties was: “Don’t let it come.  Fight it.  I wish we had fought harder to stop it.  Stick together.  Love each other.”  With her was Adam Johnston, the Alliance Coordinator for Alabama Rivers, who offered the same message of compassion and love, and also urged us to fight this while we can.

Last November we learned that Duke Energy, our state’s only electricity generating company, was planning to transport 12 million tons of coal ash to a Brickhaven clay mine by rail and truck; and to a Colon Road site in Lee County, another 8 million.

Our county governments were superseded by state law, though both boards of commissioners voted resolutions not to have it.  By June 16, both boards had signed agreements with Duke not to try to stop it.  Chatham’s deal even forbids our Board of Commissioners from supporting our citizen organization Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump, although individual board members, as individuals, are not prevented from speaking out and supporting us.

The bald facts remain: coal ash is extremely hazardous, in the air, on the ground, in our drinking water.  Both sites are near the Cape Fear River, which provides water to Sanford and for southeast Chatham, and all the towns and cities downstream to the coast: Wilmington, Fayetteville, etc.  

The rail line passes through the heart of our Moncure community and near homes, farms, and small businesses.  The trucks will pass through Pittsboro and down the road I and many others live on: Moncure-Pittsboro–and then down Old #1, New #1, Pea Ridge, Corinth Rd, Moncure-Flatwood Rd.  Thousands of people live along these roads.  Duke’s contractor, Charah, is planning to wet and spray the coal ash before transporting it, but they don’t plan to cover it.  After traveling more than a hundred miles from Charlotte and Wilmington, of course there will be dust blown off the trucks and coal ash dust moves miles on a windy day.  It will get into ground water and into people’s lungs.  The smaller the particles, the more toxic, and some are so small, you can’t see them.  Diseases that occur from coal ash poisoning include COPD, heart, lung, and nerve problems, skin diseases.  This dust can be fatal to children and unborn babies quickly.  Esther told us she had neuropathy–pain in her arms and legs and numbness. The rail line passed near her home.

Coal Ash mountains in Alabama


The two boards of commissioners have tied their hands.  They took the money and say they were planning to spend it to help their citizens.  Chatham plans to put in air monitors, but Duke/Charah has proved itself careless of law and environmental regulations and generally unreliable.  Duke has 34 coal ash ponds all over North Carolina leaking into our major rivers, where we get our drinking water.  Charah’s trucks at the Asheville Airport, as filmed by a Charlotte TV station, had coal ash flying off them after a 3-mile journey.  Then only a week after Charah was cited for a sedimentation violation, which didn’t slow them down, the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released two of the four permits they need to build the landfills and haul the ash.  The last two govern water and allow Charah to destroy the wetlands now existing in these old clay mines: the Army Corps of Engineers 404, and DENR’s 401.

Some of us listened to Duke and Charah when our commissioners called them in for questions in open meetings.  We heard them claiming how harmless this coal ash would be.  They twisted the facts, called these coal ash landfills “clay mine reclamations.”  They never gave straight answers.  Our citizen researchers discovered how vulnerable the plastic liners are that contain the coal ash–how they can be torn and ripped, have stones poking through, get wrinkles during installation, have faulty seams, plus 12 different kinds of bacteria eat this kind of plastic.

We know that the best and safest way to store coal ash is to make salt stone solids from it and store it above ground in concrete bunkers on site.  It shouldn’t be moved.  

Esther’s words echo in my ears: “Fight this.  Stick together.  Love each other.”  Her t-shirt remains in my mind’s eye: “I can’t breathe.”  Her steady smile blessed us.  Fighting coal ash dumping in my community has become a necessity.  I can’t not do this.


Esther Calhoun, Alabama activist


THE OMENS ARRIVE XIV.  June 14, 2015

We may live through
our days lulled by forgetfulness, our minds 
on a myriad of new details, new things
and people which demand our time and 
attention.  We think we have forgotten,
but some memories stay right where we
left them.  –The Omens Arrive III., March 15, 2015

I’m forgetting you again.  I still long
for a letter, but none comes.  It’s hard
to stay wishful, to hang onto hope.
I’m encumbered with delay.  There
are good omens to counterbalance
the dread when I see large-size
dump trucks everywhere I look.
“Know your counter-player,” said 
Erik Erikson.  I know mine too well:
lies, arrogance, and bluff.  Other
corporations and government entities
have lost money trying to dump
nuclear and other waste where I live,
where that rare reality–community–
exists.  We have the best possible
help, and justice is ours.  Yet how frail
we are, and how brave.  We must
persist though the sky darkens, 
the truck traffic worsens and my good
memories of love found, lost, and found
again, await resurrection.


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