The blood disease known as Polycythemia Vera, or PV, is pretty rare in the US. But in Northeast Pennsylvania, researchers have diagnosed 372 cases, enough for the CDC to designate the area a cancer cluster.

Why are so many people getting this rare, acquired form of cancer here? Many residents blame pollution coming from 23 local coal ash pits but data from the state department of environmental protection is scant.

“Should we trust the people who are supposed to protect us?” asks Bob Gadinsky, Retired Geologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “No data is being given to the public.”

Nearly 1000 miles away, in Juliette, Georgia, another coal ash dump has locals worried. After Donna Welch began experiencing prolonged stomach pain she went to the doctor and learned she had liver failure. The University of Georgia tested her water and found unusually high levels of uranium. Could the nearby coal station, Plant Scherer, be to blame?

Donna isn’t waiting for answers. She knows her water isn’t safe and now drinks bottled water.

Most of the discussion about coal’s negative impacts revolves around carbon emissions, but coal ash – the solid byproduct of burning coal – is a significant problem in its own right. The US produces 130 million tons of heavy metal-laden coal ash every year, in communities around the country, and the dump sites are not consistently or adequately regulated. With 40% of our energy coming from coal, this is a problem unlikely to go away without public pressure.

That’s why Rachel’s Network member Mary Bookwalter teamed up with fellow member and Earth Focus producer Raisa Scriabine to produce America’s Dirty Secret: Coal Ash. You can watch the full episode here:

In February 2014, the dangers of coal ash were thrust into the spotlight when Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina released tens of thousands of tons of coal ash into the nearby Dan River, threatening wildlife and residents. Sadly, it was only one of many coal ash “accidents” in recent years. The worst ever, a coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008, is still being cleaned up.

With any luck, lax oversight of coal ash dumps may be coming to an end. The EPA has been ordered by the courts to finalize rules on liquid coal ash dumps by the end of 2014. Residents of affected communities and environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife have been pushing hard for stronger coal ash standards in light of many recent disasters.

But your voice is needed to keep the pressure on. The presence of coal ash dumps in our communities is a serious threat to our health and environment. Will you share America’s Dirty Secret: Coal Ash with your friends and family?

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