Polluting Pennsylvania Power Plant Sued by Neighbors

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, October 18, 2007 (ENS) - Ralph Hysong lives about a mile from FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, so close that he can see the plant's two stacks from his front window.

Born and raised in the county where he has lived all his life, Hysong now has serious health problems - respiratory and cardiac disease, a blocked artery. His blood tests high in arsenic. His children and many other people in the community have a constant range of health problems from rashes to autoimmune diseases, some have continuous strep throat some childrens's hair is falling out.

"I think we're sick because of the stuff that comes out of the stacks," he declared.

Hysong is one of three Bruce Mansfield neighbors who have filed a lawsuit against FirstEnergy today, seeking an end to the air pollution. The neighbors are joined in their lawsuit by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, PennFuture, a statewide public interest membership organization that advances policies to protect and improve the state's environment and economy.

FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield power plant burns bituminous coal. (Photo by Kiyo Komoda)

A leader in the community fighting to stop the pollution, Hysong is a member of PennFuture and of the Action Committee to Improve the Environment of Beaver County.

Hysong is so worried about the pollution, he says, that in July, he helped to organize 136 residents to petition state legislators to do a community health assessment and epidemiological studies. "I did this for my family and neighbors," he said.

"I urged my children to move away," said Hysong. "While I miss seeing my grandchildren frequently, I could not in good conscience have them live under this awful pollution. I was watching their health deteriorate before my eyes. Now, the kids just come for short visits, and we make them stay inside as much as possible."

Today's lawsuit alleges that the plant has violated both the federal Clean Air Act and the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, and that neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, nor the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, have begun or are prosecuting either a civil or a criminal action to require the plant to stop polluting.

"The citizens of Beaver County have suffered under a cloud of black rain from this plant for too long," said Charles McPhedran, chair of PennFuture's law staff. "They aren't able to play outside with their children and grandchildren, swim in their swimming pools, or even grow vegetables and livestock, since the black soot from the plant makes all those activities risky. With no end in sight, we've had no choice but to go to court to make FirstEnergy clean up its act."

PennFuture is representing itself and three of its members who live near the plant, Anna May Moore and Robert Jones as well as Hysong.

"A parent worries about bumps and bruises when their kids play outside; Bruce Mansfield's neighbors also worry about whether their kids will get sick from breathing the air," said Stephanie Kodish, counsel with the Environmental Integrity Project and co-counsel on the FirstEnergy case. "This lawsuit demands that the coal plant better control its pollution to protect children's health."

In May, PennFuture issued a 60 day notice of intent to sue FirstEnergy over the emissions from the Bruce Mansfield power plant. Since then, McPhedran says he met with representatives of FirstEnergy and explored "whether there was a type of pollution control that we would regard as adequate that they could install." He says no agreement was reached.

Currently, the plant is required to monitor air quality just one hour per week. McPhedran says the lawsuit seeks an order for continuous opacity monitoring. Other power plants in Pennsylvania have such monitors, but the DEP has not insisted that they be installed at Bruce Mansfield.

Records provided by FirstEnergy show that the Bruce Mansfield plant released harmful and illegal air pollution at least 257 times between November 22, 2002 and March 29, 2007, says McPhedran.

The plaintiffs want FirstEnergy to deal with lower level continuing violations as well as ending the major releases, which can be catastrophic.

On July 22, 2006, residents within a five mile radius of the plant were deluged with "black rain," which damaged homes, automobiles, crops, livestock and other vegetation and structures.

After the 2006 episode, Penn State University officials warned residents not to sell, butcher or eat livestock that had been exposed to the black rain, and farmers were instructed to throw away any crops or honey that had been exposed.

After that, FirstEnergy representatives purchased Hysong's garden for $600, he says, and he cut down all the fruit trees in his yard, lest his grandchildren become ill from eating the fruit.

"The neighbors of this plant are fed up by the lack of action by FirstEnergy, and they are determined to put an end to the constant specter of air pollution," said McPhedran. "We will use all our legal options to put an end to this nightmare."

A copy of the complaint filed today and the declarations of the plaintiffs, Hysong, Moore and Jones are posted on the PennFuture website, www.pennfuture.org.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.