Why One Community's Cries for Help Against Cancer and Others Diseases Are Going Unanswered
This may be considered flyover country for most eco-minded Americans, but smack dab in the middle of eastern Oklahoma there's an environmental rebellion afoot.
Residents of the rural community of Bokoshe, population 450, are none too happy with the huge heap of blackened coal ash that is piled in a pit a mile from their quaint little Main Street. They claim the combustion waste is poisoning water, polluting their air, and causing asthma and cancer among those who live nearby. In fact, of the 20 households in closest proximity to the dump, 14 people have been diagnosed with cancer and many others have died since the site was opened eight years ago.
An outfit that goes by the shameless name of Making Money Having Fun LLC (MMHF) operates the toxic coal ash pit. MMHF hauls the noxious debris by truck to Bokoshe from the nearby AES Shady Point Generation Plant. In a single day as many as 80 truckloads of coal ash are driven down Main Street and dumped at the site.
Each year coal-fired power plants in the U.S. produce almost 140 million tons of scrubber sludge and coal waste, as well as additional combustion waste from the burning of the fossil fuel. This coal ash, which contains numerous toxins such as arsenic and lead, is contaminating groundwater, drinking supplies and wetlands in hundreds of communities and in dozens of states. Currently there are no federal regulations of coal waste disposal, but some Oklahomans aren't having it.
"Making Money Having Fun might be having a good time dumping their coal ash in Bokoshe, but I assure you that the citizens are not having any fun at all," says Tim Tanksley, who lives in Bokoshe and has been vocal in his opposition to the site. "The fly ash is in our air and in our water; it is flowing into our creeks, streams and eventually into the Arkansas River."
When MMHF applied for a commercial permit to dump ash near Bokoshe, it claimed there were no towns with a population under 20,000 within a three-mile radius. Except, of course, there were, and hundreds of folks lived in homes a lot closer than three miles away.
From the beginning, residents claim, the company has been flat out lying. It lied about what it was dumping and now it is lying about its potential harm to human and environmental health. MMHF and AES are simply not acknowledging that their waste site, which is also allowed to have oil and gas water, could potentially be killing the citizens of Bokoshe.
"They just told everybody it was dirt, that you could put it on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich," Tim Tanskley says. In December, students at Bokoshe Elementary in Oklahoma teamed up to ask AES to stop dumping fly ash from its Shady Point Generation Plant near their homes. Their teacher, Diane Reece, believes the coal ash has caused many of her students to develop debilitating asthma.
"When I found out that nine kids out of seventeen in my sixth grade [class] had asthma," says Diane Reece, "I knew there was a problem."
Last year the townspeople invited Obama's regulatory czar Cass Sunstein to visit their town to check out the site. They signed petitions, wrote letters, lobbied their local officials and cried out for help in every way they knew. Their request to Sunstein and the Obama White House was simple and to the point: The government should regulate coal ash and deem it the hazardous substance that it is.