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Caledonia — We Energies has purchased the first home from a member of the mediation group that raised concerns about the impact of living near the Oak Creek Power Plant.
Last week Tim Hupp and his wife Susan Hupp sold their home at 7832 Douglas Avenue to We Energies for $349,500, according to the Racine County property transfer records. The Village of Caledonia assessed the property at $104,500 in 2016. The Hupp’s home was among the 19 that tested positive for the presence of coal dust earlier this year.
Neighbors Claim Health Problems, We Energies Denies Them
The couple and their family have had a myriad of health problems over the years. But We Energies has denied that there is a correlation between the Hupp’s health and the rest of the mediation group’s claims, and the proximity to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant.
“As we have said before, no link has been established between our operations at the Oak Creek Power Plant and health issues raised by some area residents,” said Brian Manthey, spokesperson for We Energies.
But the EPA concluded in 2009 that fine particle pollution does pose serious health threats, including early death from short-term and long-term exposure, cardiovascular harm, respiratory harm, may cause cancer, and may cause reproductive and developmental harm. The Hupp family lives close to an air monitoring station that has registered fine particle pollution, even though those levels are within the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Racine County Eye reached out to the Hupp family, but they did not want to comment on the transaction. In the real estate transactions made between the utility and all of the neighbors that sold their homes independent of the mediation, We Energies has required them to sign confidentiality agreements barring them from discussing the transaction and not to sue the utility for health issues in return for cash for moving.
Despite finding coal dust in Hupp’s house, We Energies officials maintain that the real estate transactions have nothing to do with their health issues.
The utility has consistently quoted Dr. Peter Valberg, an air quality expert from Gradient Technology, who has supported We Energies stance that the plant isn’t making people sick. Still, Valberg’s work has been criticized as a “Rented White Coat” that “rarely acknowledges that a chemical poses a serious public health risk,” according to a story by the Center for Public Integrity,
Significance of the We Energies purchase
While the utility has purchased other properties around the plant over the years, Hupp’s is the first of those in the mediation to allow We Energies to buy their property.
In addition to the Hupp home, We Energies bought another home at 6005 County Line Road from Sarah Wesley for $315,000 last week. But they are not part of the mediation. The assessed value for the Wesley property was $174,400. The property is directly across the street from the We Energies plant. Since 2009, We Energies has purchased — including the Hupp and Wesley property — 29 properties in an effort to create a buffer zone around the plant.
“The Hupp and Wesley properties were purchased as part of the ongoing effort to establish a buffer zone around the plant when feasible. The Hupp’s were part of the mediation group, the Wesleys were not,” Manthey said.
Over 20 families living near the plant have complained to We Energies in 2015 claiming they are getting sick from living near the plant, their home values are being impacted, and some have said their water is contaminated. Last year We Energies and the mediation group hired scientists to conduct environmental testing on their homes and 19 of 26 homes tested positive for varying amounts of coal dust.
While We Energies maintains that it operates within the EPA’s guidelines, the amount of particulate matter emitted from the plant was at its highest level in 2014, according to data the utility provided to the DNR.
We Energies Expert Claims Refuted
But Valberg’s credibility was called into question in a story by the Center for Public Integrity, which highlighted how Gradient scientists refuted the claims of other scientists researching how small amounts of lead can harm children. Under the current limits, there is no safe level of lead exposure that does not cause human health problems.
“Gradient’s scientists rarely acknowledge that a chemical poses a serious public health risk. The Center for Public Integrity analyzed 149 scientific articles and letters published by the firm’s most prolific principal scientists. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they found that the substance in question was harmless at levels to which people are typically exposed,” the story reads.
According to Valberg, however, the size of the coal dust particles found inside 19 Caledonia homes are too big to cause human health problems.
“Gradient and Dr. Valberg have provided their expertise based on sound science to both private and public sector clients,” Manthey said in a statement. “Their work is highly regarded and has consistently stood up to scientific scrutiny and been published in peer reviewed journals.”
The Hupps’ Health Issues
Tim Hupp told the Racine County Eye in 2015 that he has long suspected that his family’s health has been affected by living near the We Energies coal plant.
His childhood home, Tim has buried three of his siblings — two brothers and a sister — from cancer, and his mother had COPD. He has COPD. Susan has multiple myeloma, a cancer is formed by malignant plasma cells.
Susan’s cancer doctor told her in February told her that there may be a link between her illness and living near the We Energies plant, especially since Hupp’s sister-in law and two brothers-in law also died of cancer. They all lived in the same house on Douglas Avenue, about a mile away from the coal plant..
Tim has also been hospitalized 18 times with pneumonia since 2008. His wife Sue has cancer and three of his siblings also died of cancer. The couple moved back into Tim’s childhood home in 2004 after his mother Roberta Hupp also died of COPD.
So what’s next for the Hupp family?
When We Energies has bought homes around the plant in the past, most have have been knocked down and taken off the property tax roll.