Let me start this editorial by saying that I’m not a scientist and I certainly don’t pretend to be one. I’m a journalist who has questions about what’s going on around the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant. And I don’t think we can even start to come up with solutions until we fully understand what it’s like to live near the state’s largest coal-fired power plant.
For Caledonia… I see my community disappearing. Houses are being knocked down by We Energies to create a buffer zone. But why is one even needed? I have some thoughts on that. I’ve noticed over the years the number of people that are sick. Some of their doctors claim that the power plant could have something to do with those illnesses. We Energies says there is no correlation between the neighbors’ health issues and the plant. But just because no one has gone to the trouble of looking at the issue, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
I have mapped a number of people with illnesses around the plant. As I said.. I’m not a scientist and I’m not implying that coal caused all of those people to get sick. I’m saying that public health officials need to be part of this conversation, a proper health assessment of the residents that live around the plant needs to happen, and a dialogue needs to happen between the community, public health officials and We Energies.
My fear is that there are only 30 homeowners that We Energies has engaged on this issue and we haven’t even begun to ask if there’s a bigger impact on the community than just these few homes. So while the mediation process is starting to clear up some of the issues the neighbors have had living around the plant, what happens to those still living near the plant 10 or 50 years from now?
Coal, coal dust and fly ash particles have been known to contribute to a number of diseases including: Heart disease, certain types of cancers, respiratory diseases, and strokes. Coal dust particles have been found in 21 of the 26 homes tested. Some of those homes are as far as two miles away from the plant and not far from the new Olympia Brown Elementary School, which is actually closer to the plant that the old school.
The National Institute of Health says that coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest sources of mercury and arsenic. According to the U.S. EPA, the amount of mercury the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant produces is now at the highest level it has ever been at: 800 pounds per year compared to 200 pounds per year in 2001. And up until 2010, the plant didn’t emit arsenic. But since then, the plant has released almost 50,000 pounds of arsenic into the air, water and landfills.
But We Energies’ expert Dr. Peter Valberg said that the coal dust particles found in those homes are just too big to cause human health problems. This is a false narrative that warrants further questioning by public health officials because Valberg has been categorized by some as being a “rented white coat” hired by those in the energy industry.
Despite this, several doctors have examined those in the mediation group have associated a number of illnesses with coal dust and coal ash exposure, including asthma, certain types of cancers, and COPD.
This discrepancy needs to be reconciled.
Scope of the problem needs further definition
We Energies and the mediation group declined to provide me with the locations of the 21 of 26 homes that tested positive for the presence of coal dust. This is a concern because that data presents a potential public health issue that needs to be addressed in public, not private.
There’s a public obligation to being a public utility. To continuously say that chemicals are naturally occurring in rocks, that the particles are too big to cause human health problems, or quietly settle with a person or two, then knock a few homes doesn’t address the community’s genuine concern.
Caledonia shouldn’t be known as Coal-edonia. It should be knows as a community that cares about its neighbors health and well being. We Energies, our local municipal and state Legislators need to do better with this issue.