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New Podcast 'Crosswinds' Explores Coal Dust Pollution in Hampton Roads

Crosswinds podcast

People struggle to breathe in two Black neighborhoods on Virginia’s east coast. Toxic coal dust clouds the air in Southeast Newport News and Lambert’s Point, Norfolk. The source: two terminals that together form America’s largest coal export system. For decades, residents in both neighborhoods have complained of coal dust that coats the interiors of their homes, cars and playgrounds in a fine black dust. Dust they also breathe.

One study found asthma rates to be more than double the city and state-wide averages in Southeast Newport News. Some residents are deeply concerned about the impact of the dust on their lives. Others are unaware of the dust and its effects.

Crosswinds is a 5-episode narrated podcast that brings public attention to this coal dust air pollution problem.

Episode 1 introduces the problem through the experiences of Lathaniel Kirts and Malcolm Jones, telling the story of their lifelong friendship as they team up to fight coal dust pollution on their home turf.

Episode 2 traces the history of the extractive coal industry 150 years into the past, following the path of the coal from the mountains of West Virginia to coastal export towns.

Episode 3 explores the mixed blessings of recent development in both Virginia neighborhoods, and how gentrification has the potential to influence and limit the benefits of any improvements in environmental quality.

Episode 4 discusses the science of airborne coal dust and the burden of proof placed on communities to demonstrate harm.

Episode 5 asks what it takes to keep going in a long struggle for justice -- what gives you faith that change is coming? Throughout the series, residents and local organizers take center stage in the narratives that emerge from our style of compassionate interviewing, based on personal relationships and the threading of audio documentary, journalism, and sound art methods.

Binge-listen to the series now.

Crosswinds is a project of the Repair Lab. The Repair Lab is funded by the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute for Democracy.