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In Remembrance: Jan Nona

“You have the right to safe drinking water in this country. They took that right away from us.”

Jan Nona, 1939–2014

This Thanksgiving the world lost a great woman. With unequaled intelligence and tenacity, Jan Nona fought for clean water in her small Indiana town after toxic coal ash from the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) poisoned the town’s drinking water with deadly chemicals. NIPSCO and the local landfill owner tried to hide evidence of contamination, but Jan was there to uncover the truth.

Jan Nona in front of her Town of Pines home, one of the many with water contaminated by coal ash.Jan Nona in front of her Town of Pines home, one of the many with water contaminated by coal ash.
(Photo courtesy of Lisa Evans)

As a founding member of People In Need of Environmental Safety (PINES), Jan maintained a “war room,” stocked with binders of documents and boxes of videotapes, maps, and photographs. She opened her home to neighbors, elected officials, lawyers and journalists.

With absolutely no experience in law, science or environmental advocacy, this retired secretary for U.S. Steel employed her raw intelligence to catalogue hundreds of pieces of evidence dating back decades to expose the dumping that threatened her family and her neighbors. Her work for PINES hastened a federal order requiring the polluters to install a public water system. Jan’s unerring sense of justice, her instinct for uncovering the truth, and her superb organizational skills were invaluable to this effort.

Jan was the most effective of activists—she fought smart and never gave up. Jan inspired her friends and neighbors and was endlessly generous with her homemade fudge, beef stew and heaping portions of sharp good humor.

Jan inspired me, my family, and my colleagues. As Charles Norris, the hydrogeologist for the citizens of the Town of Pines expressed so well: “Jan was rock-hard and soil soft.”

Sweet as her famous fudge but tough as steel, a woman like Jan comes along once in a lifetime. The world will sorely miss one incredibly kind, caring and talented woman and we are all thankful for the work and legacy she leaves behind.

Tags:  Coal Ash, Water