Neighborhood near We Energies power plant bands together to improve air quality

OAK CREEK -- A group of Oak Creek residents are banding together to improve air quality in their neighborhood. With help from environmentalists, families are installing monitoring devices around homes next to the We Energies power plant.

When conditions get windy, coal particle blow into a neighborhood and inevitably get into people's lungs. Residents are hoping portable devices placed in seven various locations around the area, will help tell them ahead of time -- if it's safe to go outside.

If you head down Studio Lane, you'll quickly notice nearly every other house is for sale. Each resident is going after the same buyer: We Energies.

Last year, We Energies added a second coal pile to its Oak Creek power plant, 1,800 feet from a neighborhood. In spring, strong wind gusts blew coal dust into people's homes.

"We have made great strides to be able to prevent what happened in March from happening again. We have put two layers of a protection on it, a crustation kind of agent that is able to keep the coal and coal dust from leaving the property," said Brian Manthey, We Energies spokesperson.

Despite We Energies' efforts, Greg and Sharon Millard say the coal continues to come in -- ruining their property and causing respiratory issues.

"It's ridiculous. Three to four times a week we get it," said Greg.

"Even at work, I always have two to three inhalers at work, I mean, I do recess duty. You just never know," Sharon said.

Now with help from the Clean Power Coalition, the Millards are taking matters into their own hands. They've installed what's called a "purple air monitor," it records air quality information in real time and is accessible to the public online.

"We get most of the wind from the southeast. That's why this one is sitting right here," said Greg. 

While the device can't discern between coal or other emissions, environmentalists say it's a first step in improving people's health.

"That can then be grounds for further investigation and looking for things like coal dust on properties and doing additional testing that way to verify," said Miranda Ehrlich, Clean Power Coalition.

We Energies has its own air quality monitor on the south side of the plant and is installing another one on the near north side.

While data from those monitors is only released to residents once a month, a We Energies spokesperson says their monitors meet EPA standards. The filters can then be tested by an independent lab to determine where exactly the particles are coming from.

So far this summer, We Energies says no tests have come back showing coal.