Uniting for Change: The Powerful Gathering of Advocates Affected by Coal Ash Contamination in Washington DC

U.S. Advocates Impacted by Water Contamination Meet in DC

Advocates across the nation are connecting and learning that government agencies meant to protect the environment and public health have failed to safeguard natural resources and track disease clusters plaguing their neighborhoods and hundreds of other communities. These families are coming together to hold agencies accountable for doing their job. 

According to consumer reports, more than 25 million Americans drink from the worst water systems in the nation. Many Americans are unaware of dangerous contaminants that are unregulated and allowed in public water systems across the United States. People will continue to see widespread contamination situations with deteriorating infrastructure and a lack of environmental regulations.

From contaminated water to soil and air, these communities were forced to do the job of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their state health departments as they fell sick and began to uncover the negligence of polluting industries surrounding their homes. Corporations self-report their data and pollution "spills" and have input over the EPA and other agency decision-making processes.

Hundreds of advocates and their families met in Freedom Plaza to recount their heart-wrenching stories of how industry pollution has impacted their communities. They traveled to Washington, DC, to tell agencies that it was time to protect people, not industries.

Coal Ash Contamination Across the Nation

Coal ash is produced from burning coal in coal-fired power plants. It contains heavy metals, including mercury, lead, barium, thallium, and arsenic. Coal ash is dangerous; exposure can lead to heart damage, lung disease, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, and various cancers. Most ash is mixed with water and stored in ponds, which tend to leak and flood. For years the EPA has refused to classify coal ash as hazardous waste. Instead, they refer to it as solid waste, the equivalent of household garbage. Nearly all coal-burning power plants in the United States have contaminated groundwater. 

Susan Wind

Susan Wind is the driving force behind the grassroots movement SAFE and coordinator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protest in Washington, DC. She is a fierce mother fighting for the health and safety of future generations. Her daughter, Taylor, was one of 110 people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Mooresville, North Carolina. Wind describes the torment of watching a child suffer through illness at a young age and how these diagnoses cause mutilation of the human body. The one image she can't unsee is the numerous neighbors and children permanently marked with a scar from being cut ear to ear on their necks. She discovered an increased cancer rate in her community and moved her family to Florida. 

Having a background in the criminal justice field, where she was an analyst consulting with financial institutions all over the U.S., Wind used this skillset to investigate cancer cases and raise over $100,000 for a Duke University Study. She found that North Carolina uses coal ash to substitute soil in construction projects. More than forty-thousand tons of toxic soil was used next to her daughter's high school. The ash comes from a neighboring coal-burning power plant. Wind's concerns were dismissed by local and state governments, agencies, and representatives. The EPA admits that living next to coal ash disposal sites can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases but has failed to take steps to protect the communities exposed. Wind has worked to build partnerships with advocates across the United States who have also experienced environmental contamination and negligence by agencies meant to protect the environment and human health. 

"With the EPA on the sidelines, well-connected companies with lots of cash have the final say regarding what is safe in your backyard," said Susan


Dr. Edward Marshall speaking at Freedom Plaza. Image by John Nelson

Dr. Edward Marshall

Dr. Edward Marshall is a recently retired professor at Duke University who empowers low-income communities of color through business and economic development. Dr. Marshall has lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for over 30 years and is leading an effort opposing a proposal to build housing on top of 60,000 tons of coal ash. 

Chemical engineer and environmental Attorney Chris Nidel speaking at Freedom Plaza. Image by John Nelson

Chemical Engineer & Environmental Attorney Chris Nidel

After several coworkers at a plant where Chris Nidel worked were diagnosed with rare illnesses and cancer, he discovered that harmful contaminants were leaking into the local water supply from beneath the facility. Nidel has a Master's degree in Chemical Engineering and is an attorney focused on environmental and toxic tort litigation. He decided to go to law school after realizing that the company was more concerned about profits than the illnesses they were responsible for. Nidel has worked on cases involving cancer clusters, unsafe landfills, and air and groundwater contamination.

Left to right: Lisa Evans, Steven Donziger, and Susan Wind

Earthjustice Attorney Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is an expert on coal ash issues and has testified before Congress and before the National Academies of Science. She is an attorney at Earthjustice specializing in hazardous waste law. Evans is passionate about protecting human health, drinking water, and aquatic life and says that research shows that pollution from coal ash dumps can devastate communities. 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) getting water delivered at its headquarters in Washington DC

Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington DC

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Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey, a cancer cluster survivor and environmental health advocate, is a researcher and journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience, having been published globally.

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