This week the people of Salem, Mass. got the news they’ve been waiting for years to hear: the 60-year-old, dirty coal plant in their community that leads to 53 premature deaths per year is shutting down.

The Harvard School of Public Health reported [PDF] that pollution from the Salem Harbor Coal Plant not only leads to 53 premature deaths per year, but also 570 emergency room visits a year, 14,000 asthma attacks a year, and nearly 100,000 daily incidents of upper respiratory irritation.

This victory for our health and the health of our children would not have been possible without the decades of hard work from communities across Massachusetts and beyond. Families that didn’t need a Harvard report to know the plant was causing asthma attacks, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, and even premature death.

Greenpeace was one of the groups that answered their call, along with the Salem Alliance for the Environment, Healthlink, Conservation Law Foundation, and the Sierra Club.

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Greenpeace first visited Salem Harbor in 2001 when we sailed the Rainbow Warrior to the plant. Fifteen of our volunteers crossed the line of the plant and posted crosses in the coal pile to honor and protest the deaths caused by this coal plant each year.

We continued to work side by side with local community members and this year stopped in Massachusetts with another one of our ships, the Arctic Sunrise. The ship was on its Coal-Free Future Ship Tour, stopping in cities along the East Coast to support local coal fights. The Arctic Sunrise requested a visit to Salem but was denied entry. The activists were not deterred; Salem and Marblehead residents headed to the State House in Boston to call on Gov. Patrick to shut down the Salem Harbor Coal Plant.

The people of Massachusetts have paved the way for change across the country. They’ve shown us that if we’re determined, if we’re organized, and if we don’t give up, we can stand up to Big Coal.

There is still work to be done before the wrecking ball takes its first swing at the Salem Harbor Coal Plant, and there’s even more to do be done in hundreds of communities across the country.

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Today people in Chicago, Philadelphia, Alexandria, and hundreds of other cities and towns across America are looking towards Salem. And today they know they too can win.