Located in the small town of Bokoshe, Oklahoma, population 512 (2010 Census), is a dumpsite for byproducts of Shady Point coal-fired power plant operations.
Shady Point is a 350 megawatt plant that produces electricity for many locations throughout the Midwestern United States.
90% of the coal used comes from Wyoming and the rest is Oklahoma coal- both having a high sulfur content and of very poor quality . The byproduct of burned coal is a powdery substance called coal combustion waste, or fly ash , a substance driven through the middle of the town of Bokoshe on 80 trucks a day to an unlined dumpsite .
This dump has been in the town since 2001 .
There are at least 12 fly ash dumpsites in Oklahoma, but none bigger than this one.
Standing 55 feet tall and covering more than 20 acres , this pit is operated by Making Money Having Fun LLC (MMHF) and has greatly impacted the residents of Bokoshe and spurred an intense fight with local, state and federal government agencies.
Other cities get the benefits of electricity produced from the Shady Point power plant, yet the people of Bokoshe are left to suffer the consequences.
Residents have described the impacts of the fly ash on their health, their town and their lives.
Homegrown food is contaminated by the ash coming off of the trucks, they can feel the grit hitting their faces when standing outside, neighbors and family have been diagnosed with and have died from cancer, and many people- especially children- have suffered from respiratory illnesses . Radioactive materials are just one major concern that residents have . Of the twenty homes in the immediate neighborhood of the dumpsite, fourteen homes have one or more cancer victims .
An article written by Physicians for Social Responsibility noted that all coals have at least some level of naturally occurring radioactive materials and these are concentrated through the burning process and then stay with the coal ash when the carbon is burned off.
If these dusts, or fly ash, are inhaled, they can transport radioactive metals into a person’s lungs and even bones .
The dumpsite is operating just 1.5 miles from the Bokoshe public school which serves 250 students .
Fugitive dust from the dump is blamed for a high asthma rate suffered by school children . Teachers at the school have observed that more than half of their students have asthma . The dust does not have to be inhaled to be dangerous and can just as easily contaminate surface water supplies which can be ingested by humans and other species .
If the fly ash gets into drinking water, the cancer risk can increase from 20 to 2,000 times the EPA’s targets. In 2009 and 2010, the discharge water tested at the Bokoshe dumpsite was found to be toxic, a case that was referred to the Department of Justice when MMHF was not compliant with EPA’s orders to stop polluting . Additionally, MMHF was found in violation of both the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act for seven years but was not assessed any monetary penalties . A link between exposure and specific diseases is difficult to prove but the U.S. EPA concluded that dumps that do not have protective liners (such as this one operated by MMHF) present a high risk of human exposure to arsenic and other hazardous contaminants .
In March 2008, Shady Point applied for an air permit to build a 630 MW addition next to their original plant . Local opposition sprung up with the help of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the Center for Energy Matters .
Smaller activists groups formed, held informational meetings and spread the word about the proposed expansion .
In 2009, Shady Point withdrew its permit application stating that the decision was “part of our broader strategy to re-evaluate our growth plans” .
This decision happened during a time when the EPA was reconsidering the Bush administration's policy not to enforce pollution-control regulations on coal-fired plants and had proposed declaring coal ash a hazardous waste which would require stricter regulations .
The EPA held a public hearing in Dallas regarding this proposal, a meeting that Bokoshe residents attended and spoke at . There was definite opposition to EPA’s proposal from industry groups and other government agencies.
One comment at the hearing came from an individual with Citizens for Recycling First who stated that “Fly ash does not rise to the level of toxicity that would qualify it as a hazardous waste based on what's in it" and it should instead be recycled .
At the state level, there is no clear line of responsibility for the fly ash making it very difficult for residents to achieve any results through the state. Oklahoma DEQ only regulates the air at the site of the pit while the Oklahoma Department of Mines is supposedly responsible for regulating the fly ash .
Similarly, Oklahoma state regulations fail to require basic disposal safeguards such as groundwater monitoring at all coal ash ponds and landfills and composite liners at all new coal ash ponds and landfills . The state of Oklahoma also does not mandate dust controls at coal ash landfills or ponds and does not mandate daily cover at coal ash landfills such as the one in Bokoshe .
In 2010, the EPA proposed coal ash regulations.
These regulations were not finalized in a timely manner, leading many organizations to sue the EPA for failure to follow the law .
The rule was finalized on December 19, 2014 in response to this lawsuit and established technical requirements under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), record keeping and reporting requirements, and many other requirements of such facilities .