After neighbors living around the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant complained to area health departments, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is now looking into those health concerns and complaints about the utility.
Racine County Eye learned that of the 34 families (some have multiple family members) that have health issues, 30 people in the group either have or died of cancer. The list includes people with cancer of the lung, breast, prostate, ovaries, pancreas, brain, skin and bone marrow. Over 20 people reported having asthma and a handful of people have atrial fibrillation, chronic sinusitis, bronchitis, COPD, pneumonia, Crohn’s Disease, stomach and heart issues.
Not all families filed complaints with the Oak Creek and Central Racine County health departments, but DHS officials have spoken with about half of the 24 families that live in Oak Creek and Caledonia over the past week that did file complaints. The Department plans to speak with the remaining residents over the next two weeks to understand those health concerns and complaints about how the power plant has operated, according to a statement by Jennifer Miller, spokesperson for DHS.
“DHS is also gathering information from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, WE Energies, and other sources,” Miller said in an email. “DHS will consider all the available information to determine what next steps might be needed.”
The investigation comes at time when almost 30 families are negotiating with We Energies about the impact of living next to the Oak Creek Power Plant, which they say has affected their health, drinking water, and property values over the years, said the group’s attorney Maxwell Livingston.
Brian Manthey, spokesperson for We Energies, said the power plant is one of the cleanest and most efficient plants in the country.
“It operates in compliance with all environmental regulations and it continues to be a valuable part of our customer’s energy mix,” Manthey said last week.
The We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant burns on average 6,000 to 6,200 tons of coal daily at the plant. Coal dust, fly ash and bottom ash are known to have high amounts of arsenic and other heavy metals. Populations surrounding other power plants in the country have also seen “an accelerated of premature deaths and a large number of asthma cases among those who live closet,” according to a 2008 Harvard Study on coal plants in Massachusetts.
Learn more about the relationship between coal-burning power plants and human health.
The We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant produced 11,148 gigawatt hours of energy in 2014 compared with 5,887 in 2005, according to the Wisconsin Energy Corp. 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report. But no public health studies have been conducted on residents living around the power plant.
“DHS is not aware of any epidemiological studies done around the Oak Creek Power Plant, nor does DHS have any plans at this time to do a health study,” Miller said.
But last month two third-party firms — one hired by We Energies and the other hired by the neighbors — started testing inside the neighbors’ homes to see if they test positive for coal dust and fly ash.
Charlie Michna, 4326 7 Mile Road, said officials from DHS were at his home from noon to 4 p.m. Monday to view the area, discuss their problems and health concerns. Michna’s concerns centered around air quality since the number of uncovered coal cars has increased from 80 to 142, and the impact that has had on his family’s health.
Michna, who had his home tested for the presence of coal dust and fly ash, told DHS about his and his wife’s health issues, which include asthma and nose polyps. DHS asked Michna if they had suggestions on how those concerns could be addressed, he said.
The results of those tests have not come back yet.
“When I told the woman from DHS that I’d like to see an air monitoring station that measures particulate matter, she said the DNR didn’t have money in their budget to do that,” Michna said. “Then I said, then have it work like it does with the farmers and their inspections, have them (We Energies) pay for it. They should have to pay for the air monitoring.”