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Coal dust confirmed near Oak Creek power plants
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Coal dust confirmed near Oak Creek power plants

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We Energies

The We Energies coal-fueled power plant in Oak Creek is shown on June 8, 2012, as viewed from Wind Point.

OAK CREEK — Independent testing has confirmed the presence of coal dust found Monday in a neighborhood north of the We Energies power plants in Oak Creek, the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin announced.

In a news release issued late Thursday afternoon, the coalition said independent testing confirmed coal dust from samples taken Monday by the Environmental Accountability Group and tested by Aspen Consulting. The black coal dust was found covering homes, cars and a playground in neighborhoods north of the Oak Creek and Elm Road power plants.

Coal dust contains toxic metals including lead, mercury and arsenic, the release states. The health effects of inhalable particulate matter include aggravation of asthma, respiratory symptoms, an increase in hospital emissions and increased mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and from lung cancer. “There is no safe level of coal dust exposure.”

“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” stated Greg Millard, a concerned local resident. “This is the first time they got caught. Coal dust blowing from the piles at these plants has been a problem for decades, and We Energies knows it. We want something done about it.”

Coal dust causes problems south of the plant, stated Bill Pringle, president of Environmental Accountability Group.

“I used to live in Caledonia just south of the plant,” Pringle stated. “Myself, my wife and my children became very ill, and after only eight years we had to move. We Energies did testing twice and said there wasn’t a problem, but when we hired someone to do independent testing, we found coal and fly ash in our house. I started EAG because it was clear that We Energies can’t be trusted with protecting our health.”

Air monitoring?

In January, the Clean Power Coalition said, it asked We Energies for additional air-quality monitoring equipment to be put on the north side of the plant, in the vicinity of this neighborhood. We Energies denied this request, saying that it was not necessary.

However, on Friday, in response to the coalition’s findings and news release, We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty said the utility is now considering monitoring the air north of the power plants.

He issued the following statement: “We take both our environmental and community responsibilities very seriously. We do not believe, based on prior advice from an independent health expert, that an occurrence of this nature poses health risks to the community.

“This event was a rare occurrence. However, we are re-evaluating our operating procedures and will be making modifications to ensure this never happens again. If the test results confirm the presence of coal dust from our independent labs, we will work with our neighbors, the residents who’ve been impacted.

“We are considering installing an air monitor north of the site and will discuss with the city (of Oak Creek) and the (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources),” the utility stated.

Dust reported on both sides

Like Pringle, on Friday Caledonia resident Maureen Michna said she thinks coal dust has harmed her family over the years. Michna lives about one mile south of the power plant in the 7600 block of Michna Road and has three brothers who live on the same road about one-quarter mile away from the plant.

“They get the most coal dust,” Maureen said. “We’re in the fallout area.”

Health problems among her relatives, Michna said, have included respiratory problems, nose polyps in her father and asthma. “And no one smokes,” she added. “None of my brothers and sisters.”

Dana LaFontsee of the Clean Power Coalition stated, “This power plant is co-owned by We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric and WPPI. We’re calling on the customers of these utilities to demand action.

“You might not live in Oak Creek, but the dirty energy you use still impacts the people that do. These utilities must move away from toxic coal and transition to renewable energy.”

“This event was a rare occurrence. However, we are re-evaluating our operating procedures and will be making modifications to ensure this never happens again.” Barry McNulty, We Energies spokesman

“This event was a rare occurrence. However, we are re-evaluating our operating procedures and will be making modifications to ensure this never happens again."

Barry McNulty, We Energies spokesman 

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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