Your view: WBA courting trouble building near coal ash site


The public has heard from Wilkes-Barre Area Save our Schools and me numerous times regarding the many real disadvantages of school consolidation and the tremendous advantages of decentralized neighborhood schools near elementary schools.

Every point, we have been made was factual, supported by literature and unrefuted by school administration or board majority. Now let’s speak about health.

Environmental groups, Environmental Integrity Project and Earth Justice asked me to testify at an EPA hearing in Arlington last week. The audience, other than three shills of the coal industry, was appalled that a school was being placed on this site. EIP representatives have called the location “unprecedented” and “dangerous.” The EPA has regulations regarding coal ash, but they don’t apply to mining land which is why we don’t have protections and why the feds did not stop this ungodly project.

I could not even get the state Department of Environmental Protection to hold construction long enough to test the soil for ultra-toxic hexavalent chromium, highly likely to be the chromium present in that soil. If, the chromium is largely hexavalent, then almost every soil sample is above residential and commercial allowable levels. They also have not tested for radioactivity, something Duke University noted in ash from all major coal basins.

Coal ash, the toxic product of coal or culm combustion was dumped on that site for years over an estimated 40 acres, It’s not a lined landfill. It’s too close to homes, and if there is a cancer cluster in the neighborhood, this is a likely source. Someone has told the district the risk is acceptable. It is not acceptable to me and should not be to district citizens.

In Arlington, mothers of children with cancer, widows of coal ash clean-up workers, researchers of cancer clusters, and environmental researchers and activists pled for more stringent regulations on coal ash. They agree that rolling back regulations would be dangerous. Many people realized that a school on a coal ash landfill might become more common. Those people are incensed. Why don’t all of us care? There is a chance that remediation (capping) will cause more leaching of metals. That can be a problem for the Susquehanna and its communities.

Twenty-one states discourage or forbid schools near such sites. EPA’s school siting recommendations look nothing like what has been done here. The Carolinas, facing down Duke Energy, now require that coal ash be moved to remote lined landfills away from rivers. In Wilkes-Barre we build a school next to an unlined dump which is situated just above the river. How can we risk a chronic disease or cancer cluster? Who has this authority? Who will be held responsible?

In my opinion, this siting borders on criminal irresponsibility. Someone needs to act.

Mark Schiowitz