On March 5, residents of Oak Creek woke up to black dust covering their homes, cars and the neighborhood playground. Many already knew that the culprit was the coal-fired power plant less than a mile south. Three days later, independent testing done by Aspen Consulting confirmed this assumption.
The Oak Creek Power Plant co-owned by We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric and WPPI has showered surrounding neighborhoods with toxic coal dust, and it isn’t the first time. Another report was released on Monday, March 26 stating that for the second time in March, coal dust was found yet again covering homes, cars, and the same playground just north of the power plant.
We Energies is the predominant owner of the Oak Creek Power Plant and responded after the first occurrence on March 5 by saying, “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.” Despite their claims, just twenty days later the coal dust continues, with harsh consequences.
There is no safe level of coal dust exposure. Breathing in toxic coal dust that contains lead, mercury and arsenic causes adverse health effects such as chronic respiratory issues and asthma. The inhalation of the dust is also linked to increased hospital emissions and increased mortality from cardiovascular and, respiratory diseases and from lung cancer.
This is a human health issue as much as it is an environmental issue. Young people, like students at UW-Whitewater, know that burning fossil fuels, such as coal, makes us sick and is responsible for one-third of US carbon emissions, which is the main contributor to climate disruption.
Young people will continue to face more threats from climate disruption. The EPA states, “A warming climate will bring changes that can affect our water supplies, agriculture, power and transportation systems, the natural environment, and even our own health and safety.” This is the truth behind our fossil fuel dependent society, and UW-Whitewater is not apart from the problem.
UW-Whitewater purchases its energy from We Energies. The dirty energy we use is impacting the people of Oak Creek, as well as contributing to the global climate crisis. We as a university have an opportunity to be a leader in our society’s transition to an economy free of fossil fuels. We can choose to transition to just localized and clean energy. Providing job opportunities and better health to our peers.
Students at UW-W are working on a nationwide campaign called “Seize the Grid.” And have already obtained 500 signatures in support of the goal for our campus to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. We urge our administration to sign on to carbon neutrality commitments; to start this conversation on campus and actively work towards a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. As students representing ourselves and future generations, we want to see UW-Whitewater tackle the challenges of our fossil fuel dependence head-on. To get involved – contact [email protected]