Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Southwestern Indiana residents deal with overabundance of dust from surface coal mine

Since 2012, state environmental regulators have received many complaints from those who live in Southwest Indiana near the Bear Run Mine, the largest surface coal mine east of the Mississippi. The rules state that mines have to contain dust in their property boundaries. However, the rules also say state officials have to personally observe the dust to do something about it. In four inspections, officials said they couldn't see the dust. "State regulators tell residents that if inspectors don't see the dust clouds, they didn't happen," Ryan Sabalow writes for the IndyStar.

A university public health scientist found high levels of dust in the air and inflammation in residents' blood, "a possible indicator of health problems caused by breathing fire particulate matter," Sabalow writes. Peabody officials claim the mine is safe. "Bear Run Mine operates in a safe, environmentally sound manner and complies with all state and federal air, land and water quality permits," Peabody said in a prepared statement.

In 2011, federal officials asked the mine to put three dust sensors around the property, and they detected unsafe levels of dust more than 150 times in four months. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Peabody a violation notice in 2013, but the enforcement action is still pending.

Indiana University professor Michael Hendryx of the School of Public Health said people who live near surface mines are at risk for very small particles of dust called "ultra fines," which "potentially have a bigger impact on health because they are so small they can penetrate deeply into the lungs and into the bloodstream." Hendryx said he saw what the conditions were like in the area and could smell the dust in the air. He and a research team found that people who live close to the mining operation "had average indoor air-pollution readings nearly three times as high as those living farther away," Sabalow reports. (Read more)

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