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Why One Community's Cries for Help Against Cancer and Others Diseases Are Going Unanswered

Residents claim a coal waste dump is poisoning water, polluting air, and causing asthma and cancer among those who live nearby. But no one will help.

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The Obama administration has not responded. But Tim Tanskley has not been deterred. Last April, Tanksley, along with John Wathen of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Elisa Young of Meigs County, Ohio set off for Washington to meet with Sunstein's office. Sunstein, unsurprisingly, was a no-show, and the trio was only allocated a few minutes to make their case.  

"It was a dog-and-pony show for us to feel better when we left," Wathen said.  

However, it was likely a classic DC dog-and-pony show for a good reason.  

Cass Sunstein, a former law professor and close friend of the president, has a sordid history when it comes to environmental health problems. As Sunstein wrote in his 2002 book Risk and Reason, "It remains unproven that the contamination of Love Canal ever posed significant risks to anyone."  

Sunstein holds this belief despite the fact that the EPA claims that even 25 years after the Hooker Chemical Company stopped using Love Canal for an industrial dump, "82 different compounds, 11 of them suspected carcinogens, have been percolating upward through the soil, their drum containers rotting and leaching their contents into the backyards and basements of 100 homes and a public school built on the banks of the canal."  

Sunstein has gone so far as to state that the American public overreacted to Bush's unpopular decision to suspend the arsenic rule issued during the Clinton years.  

"If a Republican nominee had these views, the environmental community would be screaming for his scalp," Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in an interview prior to Sunstein's nomination hearing.  

The response MMHF gives to critics of its operations in Bokoshe has been callous at best, but the real culprit has been the owner and operator of the plant itself. A global energy giant, with over 120 projects worldwide, AES has been working hard to keep coal ash waste from being regulated by the federal government.  

AES is a member of the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), an umbrella lobbying organization that represents all coal ash interests that includes other major coal burners such as Duke Energy, Southern Company and American Electric Power. The group argues that the so-called "beneficial-use industry" would be eliminated if a "hazardous" designation was given for coal ash waste.  

ACAA has also set up the pro-coal front group Citizens for Recycling First, which argues that using toxic coal ash as fill in other products like concrete and home insulation is safe, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.  

AES defended its practices to local media outlets in Bokoshe last December. Company spokesman Lundy Kiger told reporters that he was 100 percent convinced that fly ash is not hazardous to human health.  

"We drink the same water. We breathe the same air," Kiger said. "We have an outstanding environmental record over the past 20 years."

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged that the coal ash may be impacting people in Bokoshe, but has refused to act. The state's Department of Mines has not been of much help either and has denied that MMHF's ash pit could possibly be leaking contaminated wastewater.  

Bokoshe citizens have also asked for help from Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a global warming denier, and Representative Dan Boren, to no avail. Senator Inhofe was gracious enough to reply, "The fly ash is temporarily mounded while it is mixed with water to form slurry. Ultimately, the mine will be transformed into a pasture. Therefore, the fly ash mound is temporary and will disappear once the reclamation is complete."  

 
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