At best the map I have showing the number of people living around the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant with health issues is anecdotal and certainly isn’t a formal scientific study, but there’s enough there for further questions to be asked by elected officials and the health community.

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.

They all live within four miles of the Oak Creek Power Plant. Now I’m not saying that We Energies caused every single one of these people to get sick, but the health issues of people living near the Oak Creek Power Plant needs to be studied closer and air quality measures around the community need to be stepped up. There’s also a need for this group — some of whom are just starting to understand the possible connection between where they live and their health — to be listened to and for them to have experts answer their questions.

The reason: coal-fired power plants are known to pose “greater risks to human health and the environment” out of all industrial sources of air pollution, according to the Clean Air Task Force. To ignore this fact would be short-sighted and irresponsible by key decision makers, but there’s also a need for those neighbors to speak up about their experiences.

“We will not find ‘exposure to burning coal’ listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution,” wrote Alan H. Lockwood, a professor of neurology for the University of Buffalo and author of several books and research on the issue.

According to a report titled, The Toll From Coal: “Meanwhile, long-term exposure to fine particle pollution has been shown to increase the risk of death from cardiac and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, resulting in shorter life-expectancy for people living in the most polluted cities compared to people who live in cleaner cities.7 And although research suggests fine particles reduce the average life span of the general population by a few years, the life of an individual dying as a result of exposure to air pollution may be shortened by 14 years.”

Learn more about the relationship between coal burning power plants and human health.

To We Energies credit, they are doing third-party testing on several of the neighbors’ homes for the presence of particulate matter as the fine particulates are known to cause the most risk to human health. But the results of those studies should be made public and a public hearing should be held for neighbors to communicate their health issues to state Legislators and local municipal leaders in Oak Creek and Caledonia.

The air monitoring station operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at Three Mile Road and Charles Street, which currently only monitors ozone levels, should also monitor particulate matter so that the community has more awareness about air quality.

Daniel Schramm, air management supervisor for the Milwaukee service center with the DNR, said they operate the air monitoring program for the U.S. EPA. The program operates seasonally to measure ambient air quality.

“Since implementation of the federal Clean Air Act is delegated to the states by the U.S. EPA, the EPA developed a set of guidelines for establishment and operation of air monitoring system back in 1975 and have refined those guidelines over time. The number of air monitoring sites and the location of those monitoring sites is governed by those guidelines,” he said.

There’s a need to understand why this station does not measure particulate matter.

Bottom line, people need to listen to one another. As I’ve talked to people about this story line, I’ve heard many people talk about how these people should not have moved next door to a power plant.

But one of my sources, who wished not to be named, told me she and her family moved to the area in the 1970s when the coal plant was not nearly the size it is now. Her and her husband moved there in their 20s and they gradually became more concerned about the coal dust and fly ash when they noticed their neighbors getting sick.

“We were in our 20s and we just didn’t know any better,” she said.

Another neighbor, Sheri Ciancaglini, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. They moved into their home in Oak Creek in 2003.

“I have this black crust on my house and on my windows,” she said. “When we moved here, we thought we were moving to the country. Now the plant has tripled in size. It’s just so frustrating.”

Editor’s note: Alan H. Lockwood is not related to Denise Lockwood.

 

 

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.