Gira Mari ran the tip of her index finger along a narrow ledge beside the grocery check-out counter, and it came up filling-cabinet gray.

"This is what it's all about," she said, "dust-particular matter. We dust in here frequently, and it's still like this. And when I drive south to New Cumberland, I can smell the sulfur dioxide."

Ward, 26, works in Arnie's Supermarket, a tiny but modern grocery store in the unincorporated hamlet of New Manchester, W. Va. The few houses and stores in the community of a couple residents sit atop rolling West Virinia hills that drop rapidly town to the murky Ohio River across from Stratton.

It is a rural setting-quiet and peaceful, tucked away from the industrialized world-a half hour's drive north along winding West Virginia Route 2 from Weirton, a town dominated by a steel mill. But its rustic beauty is dulled by its neighbor across the river-the Ohio Edison Co.'s W.H. Sammis generating plant.

The Sammis plant squats beside the river next to the New Cumberland Lock and Dam and the postage stamp-sized town of Stratton, a lazy half-hour drive north of Steubenville.

The plant's seven tall smokestacks rise up from among the wooded hillsides. They spew forth a constant barrage of black and gray smoke which, when grabbed by the prevailing winds, become a dark arrow pointed at West Virginia.

"It was bad when they had the two small stacks. We complained and they built more. Now, on specific occasions, it's real bad. Sometimes you have to use your windshield wipers to see where you're going," said Arnold Siegal the owner of Arnie's Supermarket.

The plant-and the rural pollution it spawns-have come under increasing attack recently:

A Jefferson County grand jury has returned an indictment charging the Akron-based Ohio Edison with permitting pollution emissions higher than those allowed by Ohio law. A trial is scheduled Jan. 13.

The state of West Virginia and the U.S. Nevironmental Protection Agency joined forces in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus. The suit asks that the pollution be stopped or the plant closed. It is believed to be the first suit filed under amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act, which allow states to petition for relief from air pollution produced outside their boundaries.

Stratton Mayor Fred Abdalla has cited Sammis officials in his mayor's court for noise pollution after a pop-off value blew off May 17 and shrill, hissing steam escaped for some 10 hours-as well as for air pollution. The cases have been continued indefinitely by the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court.

And while the lawyers do battle, the smoke continues.

Pollution was especially bad last summer, while some employees at sammis were on strike. Abdalla said. The plant was operated by supervisors, but pollution equipment at the plant functioned poorly.

"They said they didn't have enough men to maintain the [smoke-cleaning] precipitators," he said. "You'd go outside in the daytime and you couldn't see across the street, there was so much dirty smoke."

The source of the pollution that is the subject of the suits and complaints is the high-sulfur coal burned in the giant furnaces of the Sammis plant built in the mid-1950s.

More than 3.8 million tons of coal were burned at the plant last year, said Ohio Edison information officer Jim Dodson. Most came from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. The company owns a small mine in Ohio, which Dodson estimates produced 2 percent of the coal burned.

To fight the pollution problem, the company long ago installed pollution control devices called electrostatic precipitators. These, said Dodson, are designed to remove from 97 percent to 98 percent of the fly ash emission.

Ohio Edison officials also have purchased dust collectors for the first four units at Sammis and are considering collectors for the last three units, including the mammoth "number seven."

They have not yet been installed, however, because plant officials are waiting for word from the federal Environmental Protection Agency on implementation of the so-called Metzenbaum amendment to the Clean Air Act.

Designed to save the jobs of Ohioans who mine high sulfur coal, the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, (D-Ohio), would require installation of "scrubbers" at some plants. Both scrubbers and dust collectors would not be necessary. The FPA has not yet decided if Sammis will have to install scrubbers.

Mayor Abdalla maintains the scrubbers would be cheaper because it would be a one-time expense. But Dodson disagrees.

He put the cost of the scrubbers at $800 million, with an annual operating and maintenance cost of more than$250 million. Using low-sulfur coal would cost $400 million initially for the dust collectors required and involve operating and maintanence costs of more than $100 million a year, he said.

Despite Mayor Abdalla's complaints, he says he does not want to see the Sammis plant closed.

"We don't want them to shut down. We don't want to put anyone out of work. But what good does it do to work if you can't live to enjoy it?"