Community Views About the Health and Exposure of Children Living Near a Coal Ash Storage Site
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Coal ash, a waste product generated from burning coal, is composed of small particles comprised of highly toxic elements. Coal ash particles contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury, as well as polyaromatic hydrocarbons and radioactive elements. Most coal ash is stored in landfills and ponds, often located in close proximity to low income communities. Currently, there are no federal regulations governing the storage and transport of coal ash; however the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a coal ash rule in 2010, which could designate coal ash as a hazardous waste. This is the first article to assess community impact from coal ash storage, by exploring parents’ perceptions of their children’s health and its relationship to chronic exposure to coal ash. This was a community-based study involving four neighborhoods adjacent to a large coal ash storage facility. Focus groups were conducted with community members and the transcripts were analyzed to identify themes regarding children’s health, children’s exposure to coal ash, and behaviors done to protect children from exposure. The majority of parents (85 %) reported that their children suffered from health conditions; specifically respiratory and emotional and behavioral disorders. Parents highlighted ways in which their children were exposed to coal ash, although many felt they were constantly exposed just by living in the area. Parents felt strongly that exposure to coal ash from the landfill is affecting the health and well-being of their children. Some parents attempted protective behaviors, but most parents felt helpless in reducing children’s exposure.
KeywordsChildren Illness and disease Environment Coal ash Focus groups
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