Over the past decade, American Electric Power Corp (AEP) has installed components called "scrubbers" and other equipment to minimize sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at the Gavin plant near Cheshire, Ohio. The additional equipment expanded the size of the plant right up to the border of Cheshire.
Residents became increasingly concerned about blue plumes of sulfur smoke from the plant and the effects of anhydrous ammonia used for cleaning. They said the ammonia, which was later discontinued, caused sore throats, asthma attacks and lip burns. So in 2002, under threat of a lawsuit, the company negotiated a buy-out with residents. As part of the deal, residents signed statements saying they would never sue AEP for health problems.
Today, many of the homes bought by the company stand shuttered and empty while others have already met with bulldozers. The only evidence that families used to live there are the rows of daffodils and tulips that still line now-disappeared driveways of former houses. A handful of hold-outs refused to sell at all, and some elderly residents brokered deals with the company to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives, at which point AEP will assume ownership.
"Itâ€™s like a part of our life is gone," said Stephanie Mulford, a lifelong resident of the area who lives about two miles outside Cheshire and used to go there frequently to see friends and for Saturday movie nights.
Mulford said the sulfur plumes from the plant are so thick sometimes that they block out the sun.
"You can have a nice sunny day on the other side of the plant and over here itâ€™s all dark; itâ€™s depressing," she told The NewStandard. Her daughter, who lives in Washington state, refuses to bring her baby for a visit for fear of the health effects from the plant.
"We have a family reunion each July," said Mulford. "Iâ€™d love to have my daughter and her baby here. But last time [the baby] was here, her face started swelling and she started coughing almost right away."
Paul Stinson, former pastor of a church in Cheshire, remembers watching one of the local chapels being torn down after the buy-out. "The bell was knocked down from the tower and rolled out," he told TNS. "It rang one time, like a death knell."
Stinson, now pastor at a non-denominational church about 20 miles outside Cheshire, notes that around 100 residents just outside the town limits â€“ like Stephanie Mulford â€“ are also heavily affected by the pollution but werenâ€™t given the option of a buy-out. They filed a lawsuit in May 2004 demanding the plant lower its emissions. But Stinson said he is worried that there are no major studies on the long-term health effects of breathing sulfur.