A Very Scary Coal Ash Story

Guest Blog | October 31, 2013 | Coal, Energy Policy

Looking for a scary Halloween story? Well you’ve come to the right place for a tale that will chill your bones and leave you questioning all you once thought true. While your typical ghost story always has a spooky setting (an empty stretch of highway in a rainstorm, or a cemetery at midnight…), hinting at the presence of witches, monsters or zombies, this story could be happening in your own backyard. You, your family, your neighbors are all unsuspecting of the dangers lurking nearby.

I’m talking about coal ash, the toxic menace creeping across our landscape like The Blob, gobbling up hundreds of acres and looming over communities across America.  The waste is truly a mad scientist’s brew of toxic heavy metals, pollutants and other power plant waste. Dumped in giant open lagoons, most of which are unlined and located directly along our favorite waterways, slowly poisoning rivers, lakes and streams. Across the Southeast there are over 450 of these dumps, at least 21 of these are real monsters earning them a high hazard rating from EPA. Unlike good old-fashioned monsters and ghouls that leap out to grab you, this hidden danger literally seeps into people’s lives; plaguing communities with mysterious illnesses, shattering people’s dreams and leaving ghost towns in its wake.

This is truly the stuff of nightmares and it’s happening more than any of us would like to think.

This abandoned home in Juliette, Georgia is a spooky reminder of the pollution there. For years, Southern Company has been buying up homes near plant Scherer--too bad the chains won't stop the pollution.

Take, for example a few particularly frightening tales from across our region. There’s the horror story going on in Juliette, Georgia; a picturesque rural town that’s served as the bucolic backdrop of several movies. Community members living near the Scherer Power Station started suffering from bizarre diseases with no explanation–rare forms of cancer, kidney disease and disfiguring hives. After years of medical tests they discovered their drinking water was poisoned with uranium and other heavy metals. It’s like finding out that the killer calling you is already in your house! Worse yet, there’s no way to get away from the horror; with their property values destroyed, Juliette residents are forced to live through a never-ending ordeal, afraid of the water that comes into their homes.

The mountain of coal ash looms over all of Cane Run, including this cemetery. Photo: WFPL news

The community of Cane Run, Kentucky had been haunted by coal ash for years as Louisville Electric & Gas has piled the toxic trash into a mountain that looms over the community. A grey phantom hangs over nearby homes as toxic dust  blows from the piles of ash, blanketing everything in its path and sending neighbors running into their homes for safety. The ash dust is fine as talc, and breathing it is making neighbors sick. Children are especially vulnerable to doses of mercury, lead, arsenic and other poisons in the ash and can ingest these toxics when they play outside. In the words of one Cane Run resident:

“You’ve got black soot everywhere…kids that have learning disabilities. There’s excessive amounts of ADHD. There’s excessive amounts of cancer, kidney disease. People are sick there constantly. They’re dying. I’m just sick and tired of it. I’ve lived there for 35 years and all I do is watch people die.”

This creepy critter is the result of selenium poisoning from coal ash pollution.

These are only a few of the horrifying examples of communities threatened by coal ash — if you want to get really scared check out www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org to find out if ash  lurks in the places you live, work and play. This waste can strike in other blood curdling ways, too. Sometimes, as happened in 2008 in the Kingston disaster, entire neighborhoods are wiped out in a single day by a billion gallon flood of toxic sludge. Oh, and let’s not forget the Frankenfish and other mutant creatures horribly disfigured by coal ash poisoning.

And if all this isn’t enough to terrify you, check out last year’s Halloween blog about the other abominations of of the coal industry. I don’t know about you, but I fear that it’s just a matter of time until we see a coal ash pollution-fueled zombie apocalypse.

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