Friday, September 10, 2010

Meet the people of Bokoshe

Meet *Rose.

 Rose is eleven years old and in the sixth grade in the Bokoshe public schools. She lives within a few miles of three fly ash pits, two of them active. One is “real close, less than a mile away from my house” she says.

Rose has asthma. “I can’t go outside, because it (the fly ash dump) is so close. I can’t stay outside for very long because I get choked up. If I play on the trampoline for very long, I have an attack…then I can’t breathe.” Rose attempts to take a deep breath as if testing her lungs and says “just earlier I had to take my inhaler because I laughed too hard.”

I met Rose in an administrator’s office at the Bokoshe Public Schools. She was eager to talk with me and came at her mother’s urging. Other children were clamoring around me outside the office volunteering to tell their stories of breathing difficulties and fear of the pit itself. Rose says “if I get around it or see it, I can’t function because it scares me.”

The Bokoshe School serves 250 students from the town and surrounding area. The fly ash dumpsite, operated by Making Money Having Fun, is operating 1.5 miles from the schools. Every day 80 trucks make their way to the dumpsite filled to capacity with 40 tons of fly ash and scrubber sludge that is known to contain mercury, lead and arsenic. Fugitive dust leaves the site and prevailing winds take it directly to the school and surrounding homes where the people who live there breathe it in.

The area is littered with old strip pits and dump sites where the pits have been “reclaimed”. “My brothers used to swim in the strip pits, but now my mother won’t let them” Rose says. I asked Rose if she knew what all the commotion in her small town was about, if she knew what was in the fly ash and she said “Fly ash is burnt coal, we learned about it in science but I don’t remember it all. I just know that I don’t feel right about it and I am afraid to get around it. I know it is making people in my town sick and I am afraid that something is going to happen to somebody that I love.”
*Rose shows the inhaler that she counts on to be able to breathe. 

*(her name has been changed to protect her identity)

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