BY ON April 8, 2011

This post originally appeared on Writes Like She Talks.

Barely two weeks ago, Miami University (of Oxford, Ohio) students were shearing off their hair for testing in order to raise awareness about the dangers of coal production and mercury:

The testing is the latest in the group’s efforts to ask Miami to close its campus coal plant and switch to renewable energy. Miami’s plant is located on western campus and uses about 24,000 tons of coal annually.

“We’re trying to get the administration to retire the plant,” said freshman Dan Ward, a member of the Beyond Coal group.

According to the group, “coal-fired power plants emit toxic mercury into our air, where it rains down into our rivers and streams and then makes its way to our bodies via contaminated fish.”

And then, this past Monday evening, the president of the university announced plans to phase out the plant entirely by 2025 .  The student group, Beyond Coal, was even given a specific hattip by the university’s administration:

Miami University President David Hodge announced the official sustainability goals and commitments in an e-mail to the Miami community Monday night.

According to David Prytherch, Miami’s sustainability coordinator, the vast majority of the sustainability goals and commitments remain the same as recommended by the Sustainability Committee. There are, however, two major changes that have been made to the report.

The first of these is that a sunset date has been set for burning coal at the plant on Miami’s campus.

“There had been conversation about this for a long time on the committee, but the organization, Beyond Coal, really helped to move that conversation forward,” Prytherch said. “The goal is to have a gradual phase out of burning coal with a target sunset date of 2025.”

Major kudos to the students for their persistence in getting this far, but don’t we know – as the article notes – that continued vigilence and collaboration will be necessary to see that the plans are implemented.  The Sierra Club published a press release and, as an Ohioan, I am thrilled to read about the progress being made here:

Miami’s decision – the fourth in Ohio this year alone – underlines a strong trend of schools in the state and across the country moving to reduce dangerous pollution and mitigate financial uncertainty by ruling out the future use of coal as an energy source. Just last week, Ohio University announced it would move beyond coal by 2016. Last summer, Case Western Reserve University announced it would also eliminate coal in its district heating system; this was followed in January by Oberlin College, which published a plan that calls for its coal plant to be eliminated in favor of landfill gas.

I also love how indispensable college students have been to these moves.  Check out this opinion piece written by the students a few weeks before the hair raising event. With my first child just now starting to tour colleges, I have to say that some schools go out of their way to talk about sustainability, and that’s something I don’t ever recall hearing about back in my day (we’ll just leave when exactly that was to the reader’s speculation).

In the meantime, test results from the hair raising awareness event last month should be received within the next three weeks.  No doubt, that information will help energize the move away from producing coal on the campus and around young men and women preparing for the rest of their hopefully healthy lives.

Are you near a coal plant? This interactive map on the Sierra Club website will help you answer that question – and get you thinking about whether you want to get your hair tested!  It’s not just for the Miami students:

Missoula hair salon cuts off locks in effort to track mercury levels

Women volunteer for hair snipping to test for mercury

Hair to be tested for mercury Monday

Rochester residents tested for mercury exposure

Hair Samples Key To Finding Mercury Levels, Risk

Check out more at the Moms Clean Air Force blog.

TOPICS: Coal, Florida, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution