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In the Shadow of the Stacks

"It's like hell. Living in hell," says Marti Blake, when asked about being neighbors with a coal-fired power plant. "It's filthy, it's dirty, it's noisy, it's unhealthy."

For the past 21 years, Blake has lived across the street from the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA. A family situation left her trying to find a place quickly, and a simple brick home in the small town only 20 minutes from Pittsburgh seemed fine.

"I've regretted that decision ever since, because I've felt sick for the last 20 years," says Blake, who is on medication for a slew of symptoms that include coughing, sinus infections and headaches. Blake attributes these symptoms to the dirty neighbor across the street. Who else in the neighborhood, after all, has a 750-foot tall smoke stack that is spewing out toxic smoke around the clock?

A portrait of Marti Blake is paired with the reflection in her living room window.

Today, Blake and neighbors of coal-fired power plants across the country can breathe a little easier. After more than a decade of pressure from Earthjustice and other groups, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally imposed limits on the amount of air toxics such as mercury and arsenic that coal-fired power plants can emit into our lungs. It's a historic moment for clean air in America and an essential provision for affected communities all around the country.

I had the privelege of meeting Blake and her neighbor Martin Garrigan earlier this year, and they were kind enough to share their stories with us. Our feature illustrates the difficulty that is imposed on people who live in the shadow of the smokestack. Please take a minute to read it, look at the photos and leave a comment. After you do, you can send a letter to President Obama thanking him for this historic decision that places the health of Americans above the profits of big polluters.

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