Sunday, September 9, 2007

Power Plants and Playing Fields; The New Bed Fellows

My husband and I decided to sign up our daughter for soccer over the summer. With great anticipation we were looking forward to having our little one participate in a team activity and get some of her abundant energy out in the fresh air. Last week we scurried to buy her first uniform (my husband insisted on rushing out to buy her cleats - pink and black). She ran off her school bus in great anticipation, put on her uniform and off we went.

As we drove through the beautiful town of Northport we were admiring the antique homes and picturesque coastline. I had visions that maybe her practice would be by the water somewhere on a big open field. Instead, after several complex turns, we managed to arrive directly beneath the Keyspan LIPA power plant. The practice field was immediately beneath the enormous smoke stack painted a cheerful candy cane like stripe of red and white. The sheer size of them horrified me, and as I glanced to the top I noticed a very steady, and somehow almost peaceful, stream of black smoke blowing out of each pipe.

“I don’t think this is a good idea.” I said to my husband.
“What is?” he replied.
“Look at the pipes, they are totally active – what the heck is coming out of them?”
“Don’t get yourself in a tailspin, we’ll look into it when we get home, you can probably get info online on weather it is dangerous or not. I am sure it is fine, they would not have them playing here if it wasn’t.” he replied, with a soothing smile.

The next hour I was juggling staring at the pipes, keeping an eye on my rambunctious 20 month old and negotiating with my five year old that she can’t quit soccer already just because the girls are not giving her the ball.

“Its not fair mom, they won’t let me kick it.” She said.
“Honey, that’s the point – you have to sort of steal the ball…I mean not steal it, but like get it away from them, that’s the point.”
“I don’t like that mom.” She said while pouting.
“We got you the uniform, you said you wanted to play, you were so excited, give it a shot baby. You know no one here is trying to hurt anyone, it is just a game, and you might like it. Give it a fair shot.” I said, and walked her back into the field.

Well, no one was out to hurt anyone on the field, but above the field was another story. My gut told me that those pipes could not possibly be blowing anything that is remotely OK for my daughter to be inhaling, certainly not directly under them.

Later that night I googled the Key Span plant and discovered the following on one of the many sites I came across,

“Keyspan’s Northport power plant is the number one polluting plant on Long Island and the second most polluting plant in the Northeast. Port Jefferson Power Plant is the second worst industrial polluter on Long Island. Keyspan’s plants are emitting large amounts of polluting greenhouse gases and burning twice as much fuel as plants using more modern technologies. The emissions contribute to global warming, acid rain, soot, and smog related health problems, including asthma and other respiratory diseases. Mercury and other toxic chemicals are bi-products of the Power plant emissions.”

By the next morning I had pulled my daughter out of the league and transferred her over the soccer league at the local YMCA. I felt relieved and at the same time saddened about all those other kids who will continue to play under that cloud of filth. When I spoke to the coach, I was surprised by his response, especially as his own six year old plays on the league.

“Well, you know all of Long Island does not have a great health record, and maybe playing right under the pipes is better than playing somewhere farther away where it can blow on you.” He told me, in a clearly frustrated tone.
“Maybe, but I’m not willing to test it out frankly, not on my own child” I replied, while thinking about how many times that speech has probably been given to people living right near other pollutant industrial plants (even as their kids fell ill).

The whole thing got me to thinking, how is it that so many people have become so resigned about the environmental terrorism that is being inflicted on them and their children, that they have become resigned to speculation and “thinking positively.” I am all about positive thought, but if you are standing under a cloud of poison, think positively AS YOU MOVE AWAY !

My husband was relieved by my decision. He actually rushed over to the YMCA and signed up our daughter. I am happy we were so proactive. In this day and age, parents have to not only be worried about strangers, and chocking hazards of buttons, but of other potentially dangerous elements – the quality of air our kids breathe, the kinds of food we put in their bellies, and the chemicals we allow to be put in their systems. It is not longer the stuff of protective parenting, it is simply sound parenting in the modern age.

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