After reading recent letters to the editor about coal dust blowing out of train cars, on its way through our often win-dy Gorge, I wondered if it is a potentially dangerous substance or just something we can ignore? A little research answered my question and convinced me not to bury my head in the sand. According to one article called Health Impacts of Coal Dust, “Coal dust can become airborne in particle sizes smaller than 500 microns, with the fraction smaller than 10 microns being particularly important, as particles in this size range can be inhaled into the respiratory alveoli.”
The most extreme effect on human health is Black Lung Disease but “there may also be severe risks of exposure to lower levels.” Tests on rats found that small particles of coal dust can become trapped in the spaces between alveoli in a way resembling silicosis.
“A 1993 study on a West Virginia rail line, transporting bituminous coal … showed loss of coal dust of up to a pound of coal per mile per car. This loss occurs throughout the entire transport, as the mechanical fracturing of the coal continuously produces fugitive dust as the coal settles. There are even substantial coal dust emissions on the return trip, as the “empty” cars actually contain a significant quantity of fine particles known as “carry back.”
“Finally, coal dust in all size fractions contains varying amounts of heavy metal contaminants such as Lead, Mer-cury, Chromium, and Uranium, particularly in coals from the Powder River Basin.”
Imagine the coal dust particles from uncountable trains traveling through the Gorge becoming airborne every time we get a windy day. Should we live with the risks while there is no benefit to our community? The complete article can be found at this link: www.coaltrainfacts.org/ docs/appendix-B.pdf.