Pink Energy partners with Susan Wind to raise coal ash awareness
January 31st, 2020 | By Roger Kuznia
January 31st, 2020 | By Roger Kuznia
It has been said that the best conversationalists are often those that are the best listeners, and environmental activist Susan Wind has done thousands of hours of listening in the last 2½ years since her daughter Taylor was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Wind believes there is glaring evidence that points to coal ash, the byproduct generated when utility companies burn coal to create electricity, being a likely cause of numerous cases of cancer in the Lake Norman area, which is located just north of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was in Mooresville where Taylor and her family lived before moving to Florida to continue her fight in raising the concern over coal ash.
Wind said her daughter’s life will never be the same. Taylor needs to take medication at the same time daily to produce the hormones that her thyroid used to make. She needs routine testing to dial in those levels, and it’s a moving target. She needed a new diet to compensate for stomach issues. She has skin and hair issues. She is always tired and her body cannot keep up with her.
“We call it the new normal and thyroid tired,” Susan says of Taylor’s condition.
On top of all that, doctors told the Winds that Taylor’s medication is her chemotherapy for life.
“People call it the good cancer because you can survive thyroid cancer, the survival rates are really high,” Wind says. “But I would not call it a good cancer because when you don’t have a thyroid, it’s a really hard quality of life.”
Wind’s willingness to fight for answers is why Pink Energy is partnering with her to raise more awareness about these illnesses that have become too prevalent in this suburban Charlotte area, and in other cities and states around coal-burning power plants. Her concern is why she raised more than $100,000 to fund a study that’s ongoing in Mooresville, in an effort to uncover truths that she believes others aren’t interested in finding.
“There’s too many people sick, so that really upsets me,” Wind says of what drives her research. “The other driving force is that watching town after town in not just North Carolina and not just Mooresville but town after town in these situations, watching the government, the politicians, the health department, fail people and try to dismiss people because they don’t want to upset anybody. They don’t want to hurt property values, they don’t want to make waves, they don’t want to do any more work than they already do. And to watch everyone get dismissed, especially these towns where these people don’t have resources. They may not have health insurance. They may not have a voice. This is not OK.”
Wind said she had no idea of what coal ash was until her daughter got sick. But when multiple people on her block also got thyroid cancer, she started asking questions. Amazed and alarmed at the scope of the problem, Wind pushed forward looking for answers.
She found that it was a common North Carolina practice that coal ash, which is known to contain carcinogens such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, was used as structural fill in Mooresville in the late 1990s and through 2000.
What’s unfortunate is that state environmental records do not mark where smaller fill coal ash sites have been placed, according to the Mooresville Tribune. So there’s likely numerous other places in the community where coal ash has been similarly used, creating a problem that’s hard to quantify. Wind says she’s even spoken to landscapers who mixed coal ash with soil, and have gotten cancer themselves.
Fast forward to last October, when Wind’s fight brought her to an EPA hearing in Washington, D.C., regarding the agency’s proposed rollback of regulations involving how coal ash could be used as structural fill. In essence, the rollbacks would allow for the same thing that happened in Mooresville to happen elsewhere. Thing is, the EPA is headed by a former coal lobbyist in Andrew Wheeler, and that fact is why Wind believes the rollbacks were eventually enacted. Wind spent 5-plus minutes talking about her findings not only in Mooresville but in other communities in the country plagued with similar health problems. Thing was, she was on a time limit, even though she had so much to say.
“I flew to Washington, D.C., and they didn’t even want to hear it,” Wind says.
What’s puzzling to Wind about the EPA’s rollback is that a utility company in North Carolina recently agreed to a settlement to excavate the coal ash in unlined ponds at its facilities and move to place them into lined basins. Wind asks a simple question: If the ash is really safe to use as fill, why would the company need to excavate it?
What is most upsetting to Wind is how she feels people dismiss her claims because of the mentality of if it hasn’t affected me, there can’t be anything wrong.
“These people have to be called out,” Wind says. “And my whole fight with coal ash – again we can’t say coal ash caused everybody’s illnesses and cancers in these towns, even though there’s very strong evidence that it is a part of this. But until the state and these utility companies, until they all can prove it did not cause anybody’s cancer, until they can prove that it’s safe, they have a bigger problem than they realize.”
Wind said in her comments to the EPA that the utility companies’ tobacco moment is coming, which is to say they will have to own the fact that exposure to coal ash creates health risks. And as Wind’s work goes on, we support her efforts in raising awareness. She supports people moving to clean energy sources such as solar panels, believing that the less money that is put into the pockets of utility companies, the better it is for all.
“The more people wake up, the more people will demand studies,” Wind says. “I just think it’s a matter of time where there will be a lot of studies that they can say, ‘Yep, there you go. Coal ash is connected with so many cancers and illnesses.”