(This piece was originally published on August 24, 2018 by the Northwest Indiana Times.)

The Northwest Indiana Beyond Coal Campaign wants to hear from residents in the Wheatfield area Saturday about what it’s like to live near a coal-fired power plant.

Campaign workers went door to door in the past week to talk individually with residents and distribute information about Saturday’s community conversation.

The talk is set for 3 to 5 p.m. at the Wheatfield branch of the Jasper County Public Library, 350 S. Bierma St.

Those who attend will have an opportunity to discuss issues they’ve faced, the economic impacts NIPSCO has on the community and what a future without coal might look like for them.

Indra Frank, environmental health director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, will be on hand to discuss her organization’s recent recommendation that residents living within 1 mile of NIPSCO’s R.M. Schahfer Generating Station have their water tested for metals, radium and sodium.

The HEC issued the recommendation after a preliminary review of groundwater data NIPSCO was required to release under a 2015 federal rule.

NIPSCO is currently in the process of updating its 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, which calls for a 50 percent reduction in the utility’s coal fleet by 2023.

The company plans to shut down two of its four coal-fired generators at its Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield by the end of 2023 and perform other upgrades.

Indiana Beyond Coal, which is supported by the Sierra Club, is pushing for a quicker transition to wind and solar energy sources in which workers’ interests are protected.

NIPSCO has said the Sierra Club and others are directly involved with its long-term planning process.

“Protecting the environment and human health is vital,” spokesman Nick Meyer said in June. “Our goal is to identify a balanced path for affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable energy for our customers.”

Ashley Williams, a Sierra Club organizer with the Northwest Indiana Beyond Coal Campaign, was among those who went door to door recently in Wheatfield.

Many residents were not aware of the recommendation to get private wells tested, nor were they aware they could participate in NIPSCO’s planning process, she said.

Some of them told Williams their families had been affected by cancer, she said. Williams cited statistics from the Indiana State Department of Health on cancer incidence rates between 2004 and 2008.

The data show Jasper County had a higher incidence rate for all cancers than Lake, LaPorte, Newton and Porter counties.

In Jasper County, the incidence rate for all cancers was 548.4 per 100,000 residents. By comparison, the rate was 502.5 per 100,000 in Lake, 483 per 100,000 in LaPorte, 459.2 per 100,000 in Newton, and 479.1 per 100,000 in Porter.

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