Participants in the August 11 community bike ride near the Oak Creek Coal Plants learn how Southeast Wisconsin is affected by coal pollution.

As they cycled a trail around the power plants in Oak Creek co-owned by We Energies, MG&E, and WPPI, 35 riders young and old learned how the coal used to generate their power damages the health of people and the environment.

The “Ride for Renewables,” hosted by the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin and the Sierra Club, was a free educational event designed to highlight the dirty nature of coal and the importance of switching to clean energy.

Along the six mile route, which started at the We Energies Trail on 7 Mile Road and traveled past coal-filled train cars to the perimeter of the plants, participants heard from some of the neighbors around the We Energies, MGE, and WPPI coal-fired power plants in Oak Creek.

“Nobody is helping us,” said Greg Millard.

Millard, who has lived on the north side of the Oak Creek plants for 17 years, told the group that his neighborhood still gets coal dust three to four times a week, despite We Energies attempts to cover their northside coal pile with a coating meant to contain the dust.

“We didn’t realize what it would be like to live near a coal plant,” added Michelle Jeske, another northside neighbor. “It’s stressful. I worry my kids are going to get sick. I wonder why we are using coal at all. It doesn’t make sense.”

Ride participant Chris Zapf from New Berlin said she was compelled to attend the ride because she is concerned about the health of the people who live in the area. Her companion, Steve Schutz, also from New Berlin, added, “We want to support the community that’s being subjected to the pollution.”

After the ride, cyclists had the opportunity to learn about renewable energy by visiting the solar panels and wind turbine at the nearby Eco-Justice Center in Caledonia.

“The Eco-Justice Center is powered by solar, wind, and geothermal renewable energy which are providing approximately fifty percent of the Center’s energy needs,” explained Executive Director Sister Rejane Cytacki. “These energy sources are sustainable for future generations and do not pollute air, water, or soil.”

Families who live near the We Energies coal-fired Oak Creek power plants have been expressing concerns to the company for years about negative health effects they are suffering as a result of exposure to coal dust and coal ash emitted from the plants and the trains that deliver the coal.

On March 5, winds blew dust from a coal storage pile at the Oak Creek plants into neighborhoods north of the plants. Test results confirmed the black dust found covering homes, cars, and yards in several Oak Creek neighborhoods was coal dust.

Residents reported additional dustings throughout the spring and early summer even after We Energies claimed to have taken additional steps to contain the dust. In the past several years, similar incidents have occurred in other neighborhoods, especially to the south of the plant. Coal contains toxic metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic.

The health effects of inhalable particulate matter such as coal dust include aggravation of asthma, respiratory symptoms, an increase in hospital emissions, and increased mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin

Philip W. Hauck and Google Earth