Over the last decade, awareness about the environmental impacts of coal has grown. From its climate changing and mercury emissions to its link to asthma and mountain top removal, coal has been targeted as an energy source that is neither clean nor sustainable.
But the success of NGO efforts to halt the construction of new coal burning power plants in the US has led to an increase in coal exports, specifically to China.
Proposed new coal export terminals along the West Coast would result in a dramatic increase in the number of mile-long, open-car coal trains traveling across Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
One new terminal would mean up to twenty coal trains a day through communities near the terminal.
That means countless open coal cars traveling through communities, leaving a trail of coal dust behind. Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad studies estimate up to 500 pounds of coal can be lost in the form of dust from each rail car en route.
Coal dust and diesel exhaust from coal trains and cargo ships can cause serious long-term health problems like lung and heart disease and cancer. Trains are also responsible for hazardous air pollution from diesel engines, a well-documented threat to health.
Coal Dust and Health Risks
Health effects from exposure to coal dust include increased asthma, wheezing and coughing in children.
A wide range of health problems are associated with exposure to
heavy metals such as lead, selenium, and mercury that may be present in
coal dust. Depending on the chemical composition, coal dust may be carcinogenic.
It's clear from many examples, that despite the observations, videos, photographs and other evidence about coal dust transport and export, what is lacking is hard scientific proof that coal dust through export is a clear public health threat. By involving the impacted communities in gathering, understanding and using this data, campaigns against coal export will be strengthened and grow.
Drawing on our decade of experience, GCM is partnering with a range of groups working against Coal Exports to train community organizations along the current coal train routes and terminals to document health threatening exposures to fugitive coal dust.
In March 2012, GCM began this process by conducting a training and helping launch a Bucket Brigade in Seward, Alaska to understand the impacts of fugitive coal dust.