They call it the 'Pennsylvania Caribbean,' but you wouldn't catch me swimming in those waters.

Residents of a pond located near the Pennsylvania and West Virginia border were promised a paradise, but instead, they found a toxic, coal-ash-soaked reality. Here's how they're responding.

They call it the 'Pennsylvania Caribbean,' but you wouldn't catch me swimming in those waters.

When developers approached the residents near Little Blue, a small body of water located near the Pennsylvania and West Virginia border, they were told that the installation of a nearby coal plant would improve their quality of life, giving them beach-like landscapes made from hardened, supposedly harmless, coal ash.

As the lengthy list of elements and compounds found in coal ash might suggest, however, there was nothing harmless about what residents would have to endure.

After the plant was put into action, residents began to notice changes in the water's color and the air's smell, leading many to wonder whether life's most basic necessities — air and water — were even safe to consume.

Residents weren't about to take this lying down. Instead, they launched the legal battle of their lives, and in 2012, it was announced that the plant would close. While this is a victory for the area's residents, the damage to their property and health has been done. Some residents have filed suit against the plant's operator. Sadly, Little Blue is far from the only area contaminated by coal ash, and so the fight to preserve land continues on.

If you think our health and the environment are worth fighting for, send a message to the Environmental Protection Agency pressuring them to finalize new rules on coal waste disposal.


Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Another week of 2021 in the books...and now we're fully into September. Holy moly, how did that happen? Pandemic time is so wild.

Another week means another chance for us to counter the doom-and-gloom headlines with some simple rays of sunshine. Need a reason to smile? Here are 10 of them.


1. This story of quick-thinking generosity on 9/11 is a reminder of the goodness of ordinary people.

Mercedes Martinez shared a story on Twitter about how her dad rented the biggest van he could find just before his flight was grounded on 9/11 because he knew people were going to be stranded. He ended up driving seven scared strangers from Omaha to Denver, took them straight to their front doors, and refused to accept any payment. She wants to find the people he helped. Read the full story here and follow her thread here for updates.

2. A WWII veteran got to meet the girl who wrote him a letter in the third grade, which he's kept with him for 12 years.

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