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The Coal Ash Series, In Full

You can’t see the smokestacks of the Cane Run Power Station from Stephanie Hogan’s home, even though she lives a block away. And while the power plant isn’t visible, it’s still a looming presence in Hogan’s life.

“Oh, he breathes so bad, he sounds like Darth Vader.” Hogan shakes her head, and her two-year-old son Cody wheezes. “You ain’t even been running.”

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The family bought their trailer near the Louisville Gas and Electric-operated power plant about 15 months ago, and since then, Cody has developed serious respiratory problems. Eventually, his mom took him to a specialist, who pinpointed the potential cause of Cody’s sickness.

“I think it was the second visit, she asked where we lived,” Hogan said. “And I told her, and she said ‘oh, you live next to that power plant. You need to move.’”

But Hogan can’t move. She’s trapped by her trailer’s low resale value, as well as her son’s rising medical expenses. Cody has asthma. He’s had tubes installed in his ears twice and three times he’s come down with an unexplained fever. Hogan estimates she spent nearly $4,000 in doctor’s visits and medication last year.

She says the culprit is coal ash: the sometimes-fine, sometimes-chunky material that’s leftover after coal is burned. It coats her porch, and she doesn’t let Cody play outside anymore, no matter how much he begs.

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Environment In-Depth News Local News

Coal Ash Scares, Sickens Southwest Louisville Neighborhood—Part Two

Smokestacks rise above LG&E's Cane Run Power Station. “Okay, here’s our ash pond!” Steve Turner exclaims. He’s the general manager at Louisville Gas & Electric’s Cane Run Power Station, and he is giving Kathy Little and her husband Tony a tour of the plant.

“You can see bottom ash, but it’s down at the water level, so it stays wetted.”

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Cane Run is one of the two coal-fired power plants within the Louisville city limits, and both store byproducts, like coal ash, on site. LG&E has invited three nearby families to the plant to discuss the results of recent dust sampling. The Little family, as well as the Walkers and the Cunninghams, were invited because samples taken off their homes showed high concentrations of coal ash. LG&E is doing damage control.

Turner stands in a conference room in front of a PowerPoint presentation about the company’s operation.

“So to get started, this is the Cane Run site,” he said. “We are a generating facility. We generate electricity. And we do that safely, reliably and while complying with all of our environmental permits.”

But the people in the room want to talk about the ash. The first samples taken directly off their homes show alarmingly high amounts of fly ash. But the second set, gathered from the air, shows much lower levels. As Turner speaks, Debbie Walker shakes her head. She looks disgusted.