Dust from Coal Shipments Not a Danger to Clean Air, Agency Data Finds

Opponents of a proposal to expand or repurpose ports in Longview and Cherry Point, Wash. for handled increased coal exports may be facing an inconvenient truth that interferes with claims by environmentalists that transporting coal through Washington state would create new air quality problems.

According to data released by the Northwest Clean Air Agency, the agency charged with enforcing federal, state and local clean air standards, coal dust from rail shipments moving through Washington state is not a cause for concern.

Coal has been moving over Washington state railways for a very, very long time, and although the proposed port expansions for Longview and Cherry Point near Bellingham would increase the amount of coal transported and shipped, the data collected by the agency from air samples taken from Feb. 2012 through Sept. 2013 found no impact from coal dust.

As The Bellingham Herald reported:

During the 20 months when the monitor was on the job sampling particulate pollution, it registered air pollution levels that exceeded levels considered ‘good’ on just five days, measured over a 24-hour average, the data indicate. On those five days, particulate levels were rated ‘moderate,’ which is still below the concentrations levels known to cause health problems for some people with high sensitivity.

The recent data supports a decades-long archive of measurements taken locally affirming that coal dust is simply not a real problem.

The union representing the workers who haul loads of coal believes the NWCAA data is a validation of their experience and should be taken seriously.

“Washingtonians are interested in facts and objective research. I’m glad that we finally have hard data from a reputable government agency to address public concern about coal dust,” said Mike Elliott, spokesperson for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

“As a safety advocate for rail workers, I’d be the first to raise alarms over coal dust if it were an issue,” declared Elliott, adding that “the fact that OSHA does not require rail workers, or even those loading coal at the mining sites in Montana and Wyoming, to wear protective masks speaks volumes to the exaggerations made in the press recently regarding dust particulates for the general population.”

One hopes that this hard evidence will deflate a frenzy around air quality that has been deliberately provoked by an echoing chorus of environmentalists. Their early messaging on a move to ban coal from moving through Seattle focused solely on pollution concerns, and conspicuously avoided any discussion of the large number of family-wage jobs that could be created by the Cherry Point and Longview projects.

Now, because evidence suggests that coal dust is a threat roughly equivalent to that posed by fairy dust, opponents of the two port expansion proposals should be asked to debate the economic benefits, particularly when the jobs that would be created play so well in the other progressive cause of the moment, the demand for so-called living wage jobs.


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  1. Deb

    Ok, well nothing like setting up a false pretense on which to build your incredibly tired argument of jobs vs tree huggers. The fact remains that while environmental effects like coal dust and spill risks can and should be evaluated accurately, there is no study that can debunk the central fact that fossil fuel export to Asia is fast tracking climate change and absolutely the wrong direction our country needs to be going in to secure our energy independence and a healthy future.

    • Ralph

      Where is the study that proves that is the case? That’s where the burden of proof lies.

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