“I can’t imagine raising my children there.”
That’s what a fellow mom said to me when I told her that my family lives within a 62-mile radius of 17 coal-fired power plants. Evansville, located in Southwestern Indiana, has been my home for more than 20 years, and it is where my husband and I are raising our daughter, Beatrice Rose.
Bea was born in summer 2011 during a week of air quality alerts. As in many places, when pollutants in the air reach unhealthy levels for “sensitive groups” such as children, active adults, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, air quality alerts are raised. A dozen alerts were called from June to September that year.
Last year, we celebrated Bea’s first birthday during a long, miserable summer of record heat, drought and smoggy air. Sixteen alerts were forecast from May to July 2012.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, Indiana is fourth in the nation for toxic pollution from coal plants; neighboring Kentucky is first. But if the Tri-state area formed by Southwestern Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southern Illinois were a state, we’d be third in the U.S. for toxic releases, claims environmental watchdog group Valley Watch.
So how can I do it? How can I raise my daughter in a place like this, in one of the greatest concentrations of coal-fired power plants in North America, if not the world?
First, to put it simply: Evansville is home. It is where my husband and I met and married. It is where Bea’s grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live.
I grew up an Air Force brat, and this place is the closest thing I have to roots. But they are planted in what former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels calls, “the Saudi Arabia of coal.”
Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution.
The air is everywhere
In late June 2007, during a particularly miserable ozone season, we took a family vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I expected the smog to dissipate as we escaped the Evansville area, but it remained – for two days of travel through the Northeast. It wasn’t until we neared the tip of the Cape that the air cleared.
That’s when I realized the problem isn’t unique to our area. As Dominique recently wrote, “…nearly half the people in the U.S. live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution.“
Air pollution is just one of the ways a fossil fuel-based society damages our communities. People are fighting to save homes devastated by mountaintop removal mining, oil spills on land and in water, and climate change-fueled storms. Where would these places be if no one was willing to take up the battle?
The fact is that nowhere is safe on a planet in peril. This is a challenge we all must take on, wherever we live. For now, at least, I’m fighting from Evansville.