The people of Walnut Cove, North Carolina, live in the shadow of Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station, where toxic coal ash is kept in a massive unlined storage pond, and toxins are pumped into the air, water, and soil. “Quicker than Coal Ash” depicts the slow violence of coal ash and its effect on the residents, the landscape, and the structures of energy and power. The harm done to the land and its residents is invisible. Nevertheless, this series of photographs attempts to address that harm.
Anne Branigin’s introduction to these photos explores the history of coal ash in North Carolina, connecting it to broader environmental justice struggles across the United States. Walnut Cove is far from alone. But despite the massive amount of coal ash the United States produces each year, not enough is known about the health impacts on neighboring communities, also known as “sacrifice zones” or “fenceline communities.” Often, the residents of these areas are politically and socially marginalized: people of color, economically disadvantaged, and too often ignored.