After a number of neighbors complained that coal dust and fly ash from the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant was making them sick, the utility is proposing to build an air monitoring station south of the Oak Creek Power Plant.

Plans for building the 24-foot by 32-foot air quality station, which would be built on the north side of 7 Mile Road near the railroad tracks, have been submitted to the Racine County Planning and Development Department.

“We Energies has been discussing the subject of air quality for some time due to concerns stemming from the nearby power plant. As a result of those discussions and concerns, We Energies is proposing to install an air quality monitoring station,” according to documents filed with the county. “… The station has been designed to be temporary, however, We Energies does not have plans to remove the station at any specific future date.”

The building permit is contingent on the plan commission and village board approving the project, which is expected to begin as soon as possible.

“The goal is to capture particulate matter data from the test station and to provide it to the public,” Brian Manthey, spokesman for We Energies . “We hope to have the site operational by the end of the year or early next year.”

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.

We Energies is investigating those allegations by doing third-party testing, but those results have not come back yet.

Manthey told the Racine County Eye last month that the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant — the largest electric generation station in the state — is one of the cleanest and most efficient power 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.

But the U.S. EPA has made several rule changes that will further regulate carbon emissions, which Gov. Scott Walker and other states are challenging through a federal lawsuit against the EPA, according to a story by the Journal Sentinel.

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 rate 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.

The We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant included four generating units in 2005, but an expansion completed in 2012 added two more generating units, which increased the generating capacity on the site by 89 percent.

Since the expansion, greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide increased to 11,277,000 metric tons, an 89 percent increase compared to 2005. With that said, nitrogen oxide decreased 96 percent, particulate matter decreased by 8 percent, volatile organic compounds decreased 25 percent and mercury decreased by 90 percent.

The plan commission is expected to consider the recommendation at its meeting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 24 at the East Side Community Center, 6154 Douglas Ave.

Editor’s note: This version of the story added detail about particulate matter being measured by the air monitoring station and corrected the statement about volatile organic compounds decreasing. Racine County Eye regrets the error.

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