Lead. Sulfur dioxide. Nitrogen oxide. Particular matter. Mercury. These are a handful of the toxins and carcinogens released into the air we breathe whenever coal is burned to generate electricity.

Selenium. Mercury. Lead. Nitrogen. Phosphorus. Chromium. Arsenic. These are just a few of the poisons and pollutants corrupting our waters when coal wastewater is released into the wider ecosystem.

This menagerie of nasty byproducts can cause everything from asthma to brain damage to cancer. They can poison humans, animals and plants. Coal power is a public health disaster.

According to the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, approximately 15% of all our electricity is sourced from coal power plants. Coal is the third-largest fuel source for our electricity. That means, every time we turn on the air conditioner, every time we switch on the television or plug in our phones to charge, or leave on a night light for our children, the result is that much more harm to the environment and ourselves. SMECO has shown its dedication to providing high-quality, low-cost service to Southern Maryland, while pursuing policies that promote a smart and sustainable energy policy. We, as customers, can get rebates on everything from LED light bulbs to energy-efficient refrigerators to additional insulation for our houses. SMECOs make it easy to install solar panels on your home, and even own a solar farm of its own. SMECO even recently received grant money to begin installation of electric car chargers, key to laying the groundwork for a robust electric transportation infrastructure. Nevertheless, each watt of energy we consume from coal is a millstone around our neck, an anchor of toxins dragging us down.

It is time to shed this burden on the environment and the health of our community. SMECO needs to immediately divest from coal as a fuel source for our electricity, and replace it with clean, renewable energy.

As SMECO members and customers, we have a voice. We can stand up and tell SMECO that the community it serves is done with coal.

We can do this by phone, by email, or in person at the annual member meeting coming up on Aug. 29 at Middleton Hall off Renner Road in Waldorf beginning at 6 p.m.

We have a voice, and we should use it. It is time for SMECO, and Southern Maryland, to move beyond coal and into a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future. Benjamin Hance, Great Mills