Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin
Press Release

Residents Place Air Monitors Around Oak Creek Plants

Air monitors provide an independent, real-time source of information for concerned residents

By - Aug 24th, 2018 12:59 pm
An aerial view of We Energies’ twin Oak Creek and Elm Road coal-fired power plants south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image from Google Earth.

An aerial view of We Energies’ twin Oak Creek and Elm Road coal-fired power plants south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image from Google Earth.

Oak Creek, WI – Today, residents and the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin (CPC) announced the deployment of seven PurpleAir monitors in the vicinity of the Oak Creek power plants. Families who live near We Energies’ coal-fired Oak Creek power plants have been expressing concerns for years about exposure to coal dust and associated negative health impacts.

“I have COPD and feel like I never know whether the air outside is safe to breathe, especially when the wind is blowing this way from the coal plants,” said Sharon Millard, a neighbor of the coal plants and an air monitor recipient. “These monitors make me feel more confident in knowing when I can breathe easy and when I need to be concerned.”

Despite We Energies reportedly taking steps to address the issue, residents have continued to find new coal dust on their homes and properties throughout the spring and summer, and We Energies has yet to install the new air monitor they promised to residents at a public listening session on April 4th. We Energies currently operates a single air monitoring station southwest of the plant.

“Results from We Energies’ monitor are only published once a month, long after the readings are taken,” stated Miranda Ehrlich, a community organizer at the Sierra Club who serves on the CPC’s Data Committee. “This isn’t helpful for residents who have respiratory issues and need to know if the air is safe to breathe today. The PurpleAir monitors will provide real-time results in an accessible format.”

Sister Rejane Cytacki, Director of the Eco-Justice Center, agreed. “I appreciate the user-friendly nature of the PurpleAir site. Finding We Energies’ air monitoring data on their website is pretty difficult. It’s buried and displayed in confusing, highly technical reports,” she stated. “With PurpleAir, all I have to do is go to the website and click on the map. The colors are easy to interpret and I can see the air quality at any given moment.”

In January, the CPC wrote a letter to We Energies requesting an additional air monitor be placed north of the plant and asking for results from both the new monitor and their existing monitor in Caledonia to be provided in real time. Initially, We Energies refused this request, but later agreed to place a monitor north of the plant after repeated coal dustings in the area. However, they stated that they will not provide results from either monitor in real-time. Residents took matters into their own hands, raising nearly $2,000 for the PurpleAir monitors through a Go Fund Me campaign earlier this summer.  The CPC used the funds to purchase the monitors and has distributed six of them to residents with homes in a variety of locations within a three mile radius of the plants. A location for the seventh monitor is still being determined.

Charlie Michna, a farmer who has lived near the plants for his entire life, stressed the need for independent monitoring. “I live on the south side of the plant very close to the trains and south coal pile,” said Michna. “When the wind comes out of the west, I’m concerned that coal dust from the trains is hitting my property and isn’t being picked up by We Energies’ existing monitor. I’m glad to have a PurpleAir monitor on my property because it gives me data that’s independent. We can’t trust the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Northside resident Michelle Jeske agreed, adding, “My neighbors and I no longer trust data We Energies gives to assure our safety. Discrepancies in what they report leave us uncertain of our family’s well-being. Having the PurpleAir monitor will give us an independent source of information about what’s in the air.”

The CPC plans to analyze results from their air monitors for patterns and possible hotspots. The data will be available online to the public in real-time through an interactive map on PurpleAir’s website as soon as the monitors are installed.  Additional testing would need to be done to confirm whether any bad air is a result of the coal piles.

“These monitors will help us assess whether We Energies’ coal dust solutions are working and how overall air quality is being affected by the plant.” stated Ms. Ehrlich. “While we’re glad that We Energies is self-monitoring, it’s important for independent monitoring to also take place to keep polluters like We Energies honest.”

The Clean Power Coalition-Southeast Wisconsin will educate the public about the dangers of burning coal on the health of those who live and work in the vicinity of We Energies’ South Oak Creek and Elm Road Power Plants. How we choose to generate electricity has consequences that reach far beyond the return on shareholder investment, affecting everything from public health to a stable climate. When air, water, and soil are polluted, health and life are put at risk. The Clean Power Coalition will promote public debate about the appropriate source of energy for Southeastern Wisconsin. At the same time, the coalition urges We Energies to: 1.) immediately contain the coal dust and other health hazards emanating from the Oak Creek plants, 2.) phase out its use of coal, and 3.) promote rather than obstruct the adoption of renewable energy throughout its service territory.

Clean Power Coalition convening member organizations: Eco Justice Center / Greening Greater Racine / Moms Clean Air Force / NAACP State of Wisconsin Environmental Committee / Our Wisconsin Revolution / Racine Dominicans / Racine Green Party / Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign / Sierra Club, John Muir Chapter / Sierra Club, Southeast Gateway Group / Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light / 350 Milwaukee. Supporting member organizations: Citizens Acting for Rail Safety / Gaia Coalition / NextGen America / Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice / Racine Interfaith Coalition / Interfaith Earth Network / School Sisters of Notre Dame / Wisconsin Green Muslims / Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

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