Film screening in Walnut Cove urges action on coal ash

On Thursday, March 17, North Carolina organizations will host a screening of “Coal Ash Stories,” a follow-up to the 2014 tour. This year’s tour features two new short documentary films focused on local coal ash waste issues. The films expose public health concerns, related policy issues and community responses to this environmental crisis. The screening tour is timed to coincide with the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s public hearings on ash basin closure in North Carolina, a unique and important opportunity for North Carolinians to support safe coal ash storage across the state.

Screenings have already been held in Charlotte, Goldsboro, Salisbury, Shelby, and Winston-Salem. The Walnut Cove screening will be the last event in the tour. Each event includes a discussion led by coal ash activists and local community members. Rhiannon Fionn, a journalist and producer of the documentary-in-progress, “Coal Ash Chronicles,” will facilitate the screening. The films will conclude with time for attendees to talk with neighbors and speakers about how to protect their communities and allow for an opportunity to submit comments to the NC Department of Environmental Quality about ash basin closure prioritization. This is a critical time for concerned citizens and impacted communities to speak out for a transparent, swift, protective plan to safely store coal ash and ensure safe drinking water for neighbors of coal ash sites.

The four films featured in “Coal Ash Stories” are At What Cost?, Coal Ash Chronicles, Little Blue, andCoal Ash and North Carolina: A Silent Disaster. Collectively, they paint a grim picture of what life looks like in communities threatened by coal ash contamination. People are unable to drink their own water, take a bath, fish, or farm without worrying about long-term health effects. Two of the documentaries are recent films which focus on North Carolina communities living next to coal ash.

Tracey Edwards, a life long resident of Belews Creek and daughter of Annie Brown, the lead in At What Cost?, has seen and felt the health effects of coal ash pollution in her community first hand. “We have been exposed to pollutants from Duke Energy’s coal plant for more than 40 years. I’ve seen so much cancer, neurological problems, strokes, and respiratory problems in my community,” reflects Edwards. “The public has been deceived into thinking it’s safe to live near these sites when it’s clearly not. I’m tired of going to the funerals of the people I love.”

Larry Mathis lives in Belmont, N.C. within 1,000 feet of the coal ash ponds at Duke’s G.G. Allen Power Plant, and next to an unlined landfill of nearly 280,000 tons of Duke’s coal ash, although the site is no longer owned by the utility. His community’s well, which is operated by Aqua N.C., a private water company, is contaminated. “Our community well tested 28.6 times higher for hexavalent chromium than the state’s limit,” says Mathis. “We are living off bottled water and our property is worth nothing. Duke says they’re a good neighbor, but they need to admit they’ve done wrong and step up to do better. It’s not just our house and our land, it’s our home.”

Coal ash is what remains after coal is burned to generate electricity and can contain toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, selenium, radioactive elements like strontium and other health-threatening substances that can spill or leak into our drinking water. In North Carolina, Duke Energy owns coal ash at 14 different sites across the state. Beginning March 1, 2016 each of the 14 sites will have public hearings regarding the draft prioritization for ash basin closure. DEQ has stated it will consider Duke Energy’s science and the input gathered at the public hearings to determine the final rankings. The final rankings will determine both the closure clean-up process and a closure deadline. This is the first and only opportunity for direct public input on the fate of Duke’s NC coal ash basins!

Walnut Cove: Thursday, March 17th, 6:00pm: Rising Star

915 Windmill St. Walnut Cove, NC 27052

Hosed by: Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup, and Appalachian Voices.

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