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by Lee Sprague in Native Currents. Discussion »
Six years ago, my Tribe, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, along with many others, won a struggle to stop the construction of a new Tondu coal-fired power plant in Manistee, Michigan. This coal-plant threatened to harm our peoples through emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas as well as mercury, lead, and other toxic air emissions that would have had a disproportionate impact on the health and welfare of our peoples, compared to others living elsewhere in Michigan.
(l to r)son Daniel Hinmon, daughter Ahjani,
granddaughter Cece Monet, and
boyfriend Joe Arnoux
But although we won the battle to stop the Tondu power plant, mercury pollution from other coal-fired power plants still threatens our peoples, my community, and especially our children and our elders, across Michigan.
I see the existing Consumers Energy’s Tes Filer coal-fired power plant every day; my children and community live in its shadow. Piles of coal are on the shoreline of Manistee Lake, which drains to Lake Michigan. We are under current threat from coal ash waste contaminating water supplies in the area. In an area that used to be considered one of the top ten fresh water fisheries in continental United States of America.
Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, pollutes our air from coal-fired power plants and then falls into waterways from rain or snow. Toxic mercury then accumulates in fish and the people who eat fish, putting pregnant women and their babies at risk for serious developmental and neurological problems. Mercury exposure threatens a child’s ability to walk, talk, read, write and learn.
Mercury pollution is a threat to all of us in Michigan, but my tribe’s traditional life-ways result in increased exposure to coal-fired power plant contaminants in the air, water and land. According to the EPA 15.3 percent of white women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels above the health guideline, compared to 31.5 percent of Native Women of childbearing age.
If this statistic is this bad, today, our women and children are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Too soon toxic mercury will impact all of our children unless we take action.
Daughter Zhaawan with a Proud Son Nimkins
When I was young, it was taught to me that you always eat what you catch. This teaching has been with our peoples since time immemorial. But with the development of coal’fired power plants, mercury has found its way into Michigan’s water systems and into the fish. Now when my youngest son, Nimkins, catches a fish, I cannot consciously feed him the fish that he caught, because it may have mercury in it.
My three daughters and granddaughter cannot eat the fish in Michigan without endangering the life of future generations. This contradicts what our elders have always taught us to do.
This is the third generation in the history of my peoples that our young children and our women of childbearing age, can no longer eat the fish given to us by the Creator to provide us with sustenance.
This month, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed a long overdue update to the Clean Air Act that will strengthen public health protections from coal-fired power plants. The proposed air toxics standard would establish emission limits for life-threatening air pollution such as mercury, arsenic and other air toxics from the nation’s fleet of power plants, which are currently allowed to emit hazardous air pollution without national limits.
This protection is long overdue, for Michigan’s tribal peoples. A recent report by Environment Michigan showed that coal-fired power plants in our state emitted 4,012 pounds of toxic mercury pollution in 2009. And since even a gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate a 20 acre lake, toxic mercury threatens the Great Lakes and nearly all 11,000 of our inland lakes. It also poses a threat to all 36,000 miles of river meandering through Michigan, which means fish advisories across the state.
We need the EPA’s strong new protections from toxic mercury so we can all reduce mercury levels quickly and decisively for future generations.
You can show your support by submitting your comments to the EPA at - firstname.lastname@example.org, please include: Attention Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR- 2009-0234
The Sierra Club also has an online comment tool that is easy to use by Click Here »
Lee Sprague is a tribal member of Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, based in Manistee, Michigan. He currently serves on the Tribal Council. Lee plans to spend Earth Day with family and friends on his Tribe’s 1855 Reservation listening to what Mother Earth has to say.
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