"Pollution has plagued this Birmingham, Alabama, neighborhood for decades. Will anything ever change?"
"Keisha Brown was 12 the first time she stopped breathing.
She’d fallen asleep on a chilly November night in Birmingham, Alabama, to the sound of carloads of coal passing on a rail line through the neighborhood’s otherwise quiet backyards.
Brown awoke with a gasp. Her mother rushed in to find her usually calm child panic-stricken, unable to breathe. They sped to Carraway Hospital, where Brown was diagnosed with severe asthma. She’s lived with this condition for nearly three decades now — life-threatening mucus coating her inflamed airways.
Now 40, Brown lives in the same house. It’s modest, white with turquoise trim, a wheelchair ramp leading to a screened-in porch with a clear view of the rail line and the 400-acre industrial site that’s likely plagued her lungs all these years. Brown’s house is surrounded by steel mills, cement plants and two major producers of coke, a high-carbon fuel made by baking coal, that have operated for nearly a century. Across the street, two-story mounds that look like moss-covered hills but are really berms of another byproduct of the coking process block the view of factories beyond. "