Life Under The Stacks

Coal plant pollution has a serious impact on health: every year, it causes exacerbated asthma, heart problems, hospital visits, days when people miss work and school, and worst of all, premature death—especially among vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and people with asthma. Two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a smokestack and the specter of a plume.


"It's like hell. Living in hell," says Marti Blake, as she points at the coal-fired power plant that dominates the view from her living room, in Springdale, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. "It's filthy, it's dirty, it's noisy, it's unhealthy."

On December 21, 2011, the Obama administration committed to cleaning up the unrivaled amounts of mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst toxic air polluters.

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Marti Blake walks her dogs next to her home in Springdale, PA.

"I spend most of my life thinking and worrying about the pollution that's coming out of that plant," says Blake, who has lived underneath the stacks for 21 years and has had health problems the entire time.

Earthjustice has worked for more than a decade to achieve the first-ever clean air protections against coal-fired power plants, which will improve the lives and health of Americans across the country who now suffer from tremendous pollution.

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Marti Blake shows the amount of soot and pollution that has accumulated on the side of her house in less than one week.

"It's awful, I try to keep it clean, but that's pretty much impossible," she said.

The rule's impact on health will be substantial. When it takes effect, it will prevent 4,700 heart attacks, 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis, 130,000 childhood asthma attacks and up to 11,000 premature deaths every year.

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Blake has to take medication for her symptoms such as a chronic cough, runny nose, headaches and sinus infections. She has been taking the medication for more than 20 years, ever since moving next to the plant.

"Basically I've felt like I have a cold for 21 years now," Blake said.

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Blake speaks with her neighbor Martin Garrigan. The two worked together to try to get the plant to clean up its noise and air pollution.

"Neighborliness doesn't trump profits," says Earthjustice's Jim Pew, an attorney who has worked for more than a decade to clean up coal plants. "Until the government actually sets standards that require these big neighbors to control their pollution, it's not going to happen."

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

"Living next to a coal plant is like the neighbor from hell just moved in," says Martin Garrigan.

"They've just bought a huge house and put up a 750-foot tall stack that's spewing poisons out over your head and creating so much noise that you often can't sleep at night from it."

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

The stacks from the Gen-On Chewick Generating Station dominate the skyline of the surrounding community.

Martin Garrigan's daughter is one of several children in the area who have asthma.

"The school nurse has referred to the 'epidemic of asthma' in the area," says Garrigan. "I've told my kids that they should move away from here as soon as they graduate."

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

The United States gets 45 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants like the one in Springdale.

However, many people who live near the stacks pay a disproportionately large burden for the power that all of us enjoy.

New regulations passed by the EPA provide an important step towards cleaning up coal plant pollution and creating healthier communities throughout America.

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

The stacks of the Cheswick Generating Station are reflected in Marti Blake's window.

"I mean, nobody is put on this earth to live in filth and to breathe the filth" she continues. "With our technologies today? We're not living back in the 18th century."

Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

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