Curious to see if there were any toxins in her body that could be causing health problems, Welch had her hair checked. Hair stores chemicals and toxins absorbed in the body.
“My hair is 68 parts per million uranium,” Welch says. “And then my husband started breaking out in disfiguring hives. His kidneys started acting really bizarre.”
Welch says her doctor linked the family health problems to uranium poisoning. The uranium was traced to a water well on her property. That discovery led to more robust testing by University of Georgia researchers, who found more than 20 homes in the area with high concentrations of uranium.
Hair testing revealed that another Juliette resident, Jamie Worley, had high concentrations of uranium in his hair. Worley developed liver cancer and died, although it’s unclear whether the uranium triggered the cancer.
The researchers say they haven’t traced where the uranium comes from, although EPA officials said they believed the contamination to come from underneath a layer of granite 70 miles away near Atlanta.
Uranium is also heavily concentrated in coal ash. Plant Scherer produces hundreds of acres of coal ash per year. The waste is stored in a 900-acre pond surrounding the plant. Over the past 30 years, several studies have found coal ash more radioactive than the waste from nuclear power plants.
So when Georgia Power sealed two wells, many in the community began to suspect the massive coal plant could be causing the contamination and the illnesses. One of the most commonly accepted theories by residents of Juliette is that uranium and other toxins from the coal waste are leaking from the ash pond into the area water table.
“Through the grapevine and small community talk, that’s what I hear,” Welch says. “Over and over again people ask me, ‘Is it Georgia Power? Is there any proof it’s Georgia Power? Is it the ash?’ I don’t know. I can’t say. I just want the truth.”