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Study Seeks To Determine Health Effects Of Coal Ash On Louisville Kids

Erica Peterson

A researcher at the University of Louisville wants to know whether coal ash is in homes in Southwest Louisville and how it’s potentially affecting the children living there.

U of L public health researcher Kristina Zierold is about halfway through a five-year study of the issue, and is looking for additional participants. Her study is looking at homes in Southwest Louisville and Bullitt County, within a 10 mile radius of either of the city’s power plants.

Coal is currently burned and stored at Louisville Gas & Electric’s Mill Creek Power Plant; the company converted the Cane Run Power Plant to natural gas in 2015, but ash remains on the site in a pond and landfill.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity, but it also contains numerous heavy metals. Zierold’s study involves testing homes to see if coal ash is present — both by taking air samples and lifting dust from the child’s bedroom. She’ll then test the child’s neurological performance with computer tests, and a child behavior checklist filled out by parents. She’ll also test the child’s toenail clippings, to see if they have high levels of metals in their bodies.

“And what we’re hoping to find out is if coal ash affects performance like attention, concentration, fine motor skills,” Zierold said.

Coal ash has been in the news lately, as Kentucky works to incorporate the federal government’s new standards into existing state law. But in doing so, the state is also significantly weakening its oversight over the planning, engineering and siting of new coal ash landfills.

Zierold has about 108 study participants already, but is looking for nearly 200 more. Eligible children are between six and 14 years old, and live in ZIP codes 40109, 40118, 40177, 40211, 40214, 40215, 40216, 40258, or 40272. The children and their parents will be compensated for participating in the study.

Those interested in taking part in the study should contact Zierold at 502-216-9673 or More information is here.

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