Mysterious My Ash: This Black Stuff Coats Homes and Lungs


Update: Oct. 13, 2010: DNRE responds to concerns from citizens (and Mr. Great Lakes). Gasps heard throughout Bangor Township. Likely “city mold.” Particulates still coming from plant. Sigh.

Oct. 12, 2010:

So there’s a story in today’s Bay City Times. It’s about this “mysterious” black stuff that people in Bangor Township (where Mr. Great Lakes lives) say has been coating homes for the past few months. Some residents are quick to point their finger at the Consumers Energy Karn-Weadock complex in Bay County’s Hampton Township. That’s the right direction, based on the wind. But let me tell you what really blows.

Karn-Weadock piles its coal ash along Saginaw Bay, and some dust is inevitably carried away by the wind. But what’s worse than that is the stuff that billows from the stacks there and is carried away by the wind. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, you’re inhaling that stuff if you live in the vicinity of this plant’s exhaust.

“Oh, Mr. Great Lakes,” you may say, “you have no proof of this.”

Really? From the story:

Consumers Energy does contract a boat cleaning service at the Bay City Yacht Club, 3315 Shady Shores Road in Bangor Township, to clean boats that are sometimes dirtied by particulates from Karn-Weadock Generating Complex. The Bay City Yacht Club is situated approximately 1,000 feet northwest of the plant’s coal piles.

The Bay Road neighborhood is within a mile northwest of the Bay City Yacht Club, which puts it on the same trajectory that strong northwest winds sometimes carry coal particulates from the Consumers Energy plant.

Another word for coal particulates is particulate matter. That’s soot so small that it’s inhaled deep into your lungs, where it shortens your life. That’s not my opinion. That’s a fact. Consumers has acknowledged those particulate deposits by paying a boat cleaning service to wipe away the soot.

So what is the company going to do about the mysterious black stuff?

Consumers Energy Spokesperson Mary Gust said the company is unaware of any problems in that area.

“We’re not aware of any complaints from that area,” she said. “If we do receive an inquiry, we do investigate. Typically what we’ll do, we’ll visit the site and collect samples. We find, oftentimes, that results indicate it’s biological in nature.”

Clearly, Consumers hasn’t been paying attention to environmental groups like Lone Tree Council who have for YEARS lodged complaints and concerns about particulate matter levels from the plant. Sure, the plant may meet the federal limits for particulate pollution. Give them a medal, please. Levels of particulates at current standards have been linked to diabetes.

But let’s give Consumers a chance here. The spokeswoman says her company typically visits sites to collect samples if they receive an inquiry. Let’s hope complaints from several residents and a story in the newspaper qualifies as an “inquiry.”

The most mysterious thing about this issue is the lack of a response from the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment, which has an office in Bay City.

Let’s see if the state agency that regulates the coal plant will react. Just don’t hold your breath.

— Photo of Consumers coal via Bing Maps



Are You Happy With Michigan’s Bottle Bill?

So this week I’m in West Virginia, to speak at a Nature Conservancy conference on the power of social media. Hint: You should retweet this story.

And I’ve noticed that the folks in West Virginia are really friendly. They say “Hi” and they seem to mean it. Maybe that’s because I’m in “the holler,” as the cab driver said on my way here this morning. But despite their overt happiness, the people of WVA still don’t have a bottle bill. They just throw away the bottles and cans.

Now I was awed on the way here, in a two-hour ride from Pittsburgh, with the beauty of the rolling mountain scenery in the wild and wonderful state. John Denver had it right. And I can’t stop humming “Country Roads.”

On the cover of today’s Charleston Gazette is a story featuring Unknown Environmentalists, lots of them, with brown paper bags over their heads.

The story is about efforts by a local group called Pick Up America, which staged at a rally at the state Capitol to push for a 5-cent deposit on beverage containers. In Michigan, we have a 10-cent deposit. And I’ll admit it’s a pain to reclaim my 10 cents, but it (usually) keeps me honest and encourages recycling.

Which makes me wonder: Do you appreciate Michigan’s 10-cent law, and think it should even be expanded to non-carbonated beverages (water and juice)? I, for one, am happy to have it, despite the hassle. And to think, West Virginia, the second-largest coal-producing state, is quibbling about a nickel.

— Photo via


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