Susan Bird said she blames air pollution from the nearby Bruce Mansfield Power Plant in Shippingport, Beaver County, for her two younger sons' neurological disorders, including one boy's autism.
Ralph Hysong, who also lives one mile from the plant, said he feels good only when he travels outside Beaver County. He complains of losses of taste and smell, mucus membrane infections, horny growths on the skin and sinus drainage he attributes to daily exposure to air pollution.
"We no longer grow a garden or have fruit trees, especially after last year's major upset that spewed grimy ash for several miles," he said, noting the July 22 "black rain" that covered Shippingport and Raccoon Township properties within five miles of the plant.
Both Raccoon Township residents will be plaintiffs in a lawsuit that Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture, plans to file against FirstEnergy Generation Corp., which operates the 2,410-megawatt plant, the state's largest electrical generator. The Environmental Integrity Project also is supporting legal action.
The lawsuit will allege chronic violations of the federal Clean Air Act and the state Air Pollution Control Act.
During a telephone news conference yesterday, PennFuture officials said the plant is in daily violation of environmental emission regulations and released "harmful and illegal air pollution" at least 257 times between Nov. 22, 2002, and March 29.
"We believe there were violations many more days than listed," said Charles McPhedren, PennFuture senior attorney.
"This is the 21st century. We ought to be able to live near a power plant without being showered," Environmental Integrity Project President Eric Schaeffer said. "If we must sue to make it right, then that is what we will do to get environmental justice."
FirstEnergy spokeswoman Ellen Raines said the plant does have opacity problems, or smoke thickness, but company officials continue working to correct it.
"But this is a difficult issue," she said. "We will continue investing equipment, time and energy until it is resolved."
The plant is upgrading scrubber equipment, which removes pollution from smokestack emissions. She said the plant currently eliminates 95 percent of all sulfur dioxide, as much as 90 percent of nitrogen oxide and 99 percent of particulates from emissions.
The pending lawsuit, she said, will not affect the company's timetable to resolve problems.
"We are absolutely determined to get this resolved, and we are working with the DEP to get it addressed," Ms. Raines said.
But if the plant fails to come into compliance with state and federal emission standards within 60 days, PennFuture said, it will file a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on July 21 -- one day shy of the anniversary of last year's black rain episode. That event led the government to recommend people wear masks when cutting grass.
It also prompted the DEP to fine FirstEnergy $25,000, but PennFuture said it resulted in no further compliance action.
PennFuture, Ms. Bird and Mr. Hysong said they will seek full regulatory compliance as well as legal fees in the lawsuit.
"Mowing our lawns with breathing protection -- does that sound safe to you?" Ms. Bird said.
Citizen lawsuits are permitted when government authorities fail to enforce environmental laws. But citizens must give a 60-day notice before filing suit to allow time for the company to correct violations.
Helen Humphreys, DEP spokeswoman, said the opacity problem at the Bruce Mansfield plant has been a persistent problem. The company signed a consent order in January 2005 to correct it but has been unsuccessful in its efforts. Since then, the company has paid a $5,000 monthly fine for opacity violations.
The EPA also fined FirstEnergy $8.5 million in 2005 for problems that included continued air pollution at Bruce Mansfield.
David Templeton can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1578.