Tuscumbia residents say nearby fossil plant is causing cancer - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Tuscumbia residents say nearby fossil plant is causing cancer

Resident speaks about fossil fuel plant causing sickness. (Source: WAFF) Resident speaks about fossil fuel plant causing sickness. (Source: WAFF)

Many people who live on the streets that border the Colbert Fossil Plant say they're sick and tired of being sick with cancer. 

Now, their frustration is boiling over, and transforming into determination, as they plan a legal offensive against the Tennessee Valley's energy giant.   

"We've got to start standing up for what we know is right. Because TVA is going to protect themselves, we as a community need to protect ourselves and our children," said Diane Petty.

Petty says it's time to take action by taking on the TVA. She can't shake the thought that coal ash from the Colbert Fossil plant in Tuscumbia is poisoning her community.  

The TVA is no longer burning coal at the Colbert plant, but it has federal approval to store millions of pounds of coal ash there permanently. Petty and many of her neighbors congregated in this church to brainstorm about how to stop those plans with a class action lawsuit. 

"Our main goal is for the ash ponds to be moved. As long as they're here, the contamination is still affecting us. We've got many people sick. We can't fix this problem by covering it up."

The Petty's say they're speaking out so their trips to this cemetery won't be as frequent. They tell us, more than 100 people, who live in homes surrounding the plant, have died from cancer or been diagnosed with it.  Her husband Otis is a cancer survivor but is waiting on test results to see if the disease is back.   

We asked the TVA, is this a cancer cluster? They say no, claiming a study from the Department of Health shows there's no link between the Colbert plant and any health problems. 

"We truly understand and feel for the folks who are ill and are looking for a reason why. But, there is no correlation between the operations at the plant and the illnesses that are being claimed by the residents," said Gail Rymer, TVA Director of Public Relations.

However, the TVA does admit groundwater at the Colbert plant quote, "does not meet ADEM's groundwater protection standards."  The TVA's own testing shows levels of nine contaminants, including the cancer-causing chemical Arsenic, are above the state's guidelines!  

The TVA claims those contaminants are contained at the plant. Yet, one Shoals environmentalist disagrees, saying the TVA is violating the Clean Water Act.

"A sample that Tennessee Riverkeeper took out of a seep at the coal ash pond was 50 times higher than the maximum contaminant level set by the state of Alabama for arsenic, a known carcinogen," said Petty.

Meanwhile, the Petty's say they keep calling the TVA, ADEM, EPA, but no one will give them a straight answer 

"When I called the EPA, they sent me to another group. I called that group, they sent me to another group, and just keep sending you around in circles. Is your head spinning? That's what they do," said Petty.

Why can't the EPA help the Petty's?  The United States Commission on Civil Rights tells us, since the EPA classified coal ash as non-hazardous material, it can't enforce the requirements of its own coal ash rule. 

"My number one question is why coal ash isn't classified as a hazardous material," said Petty.

We asked the EPA that very question. It says it looked through 450 thousand comments before deciding coal ash is non-hazardous. 

So, what can you do if you're concerned that your water supply is full of contaminants? 

The EPA says, citizens can band together and sue. However, The Commission on Civil Rights found, in most cases, people who live near power plants don't have the money for a lengthy lawsuit against a federally owned corporation like the TVA. 

"We were discriminated against by using our community to dump their poison," said Petty.

While the odds may be stacked against them, the Petty's say, they're willing to fight for what's right. In their eyes, that means moving the Colbert coal ash to a different site. 

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