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Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives

There is a running joke in my hometown about the glowing green fish and three-headed salamanders in Lake Julian. Nestled in the center of Arden, North Carolina, and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, this lake was once the picturesque centerpiece of the quaint Southern town. But thanks to the pollution from Progress Energy’s nearby coal ash pond, these jokes aren’t far from the truth.

When our elected officials continue standing in the way of clean air and water—it’s time to shake things up. Which is why more than 100 physicians, tribal and labor leaders, clergy, nurses and parents are in Washington, D.C., for a 3-day visit with Congress, united as 50 States United for Healthy Air.

This legion of clean air and water advocates are meeting with members of Congress to call for greater protections from smog, coal ash, carbon and other dangerous air pollutants.

It’s a big day for our lungs and our health.

Recent sampling of paths constructed of coal ash near J.L. Wilkinson Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida reveal high levels of vanadium, a hazardous substance linked to cardiovascular disease and nervous system damage. Vanadium levels were up to seven times higher than levels deemed safe for residential soil by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

A power plant located next to a waterway.

Coal-fired power plant pollution is contaminating our water, not just our air. Here’s how: when plants install scrubbers and other emission control devices onto smokestacks to capture air pollution, the chemical waste they pull from the air is then discharged into our waterways.

Not good.

Arsenic-infused drinking water, the risk of cancer, and the fear of being washed away by a flood of toxic sludge are a burden of concern for Americans living near more than 1,300 toxic coal ash dump sites.They have expressed their concerns through numerous letters to Congress, petitions, and more than 450,000 public comments to the Environmental Protect

Soot is melting the Arctic. Even scientists are alarmed with the disappearance rate of ice in the northern hemisphere. When soot falls on snow and ice it increases the amount of light and heat that is absorbed, just like any reflective surface. The Arctic is not alone in this unprecedented melting; the life-supporting snowpack in the Himalayas is also feeling the impact.

My favorite aunt became a dean at Michigan State back in the early 1980’s. She was a role model for us all, assuming a level of power and influence that most women—especially African American women—had not been able access at that time. She, like many other students and faculty at the time, enjoyed the campus and resources it provided. But what she didn’t know was that the water that she drank, bathed in and used for cooking and cleaning and cleaning, may have been poisoned by toxic coal ash.

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