Say No to Coal Dust Myths

In an opinion commentary recently published by the Seattle Times, a local activist – and known critic of fossil fuel infrastructure projects – took to the pages of the state’s largest paper to again raise previously debunked accusations regarding coal dust related to the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) project in Longview.  It’s often difficult to follow Mr. Michael Riordan’s essay at times as it’s based on perceived facts that are stated without support while failing to account for the numerous studies – including the state’s exhaustive environmental review – debunking his concerns about coal dust.

Exaggerated concerns regarding coal dust is unfortunately not new. The false notion that coal dust is a problem has long been a rallying cry of opponents of economic growth in Washington, and the Millennium project in particular. But unfortunately for them, the facts have never backed up their assertions.

First in 2014, the NW Clean Air Agency found that coal dust from rail traffic wasn’t a concern to Washington’s air, water or quality of life. Then most recently, this same sentiment was reiterated in the state’s own Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) analysis for the MBT project which found that “there would be no unavoidable and significant environmental impacts from coal dust” tied to the project. The author’s suggestion that the survey by DOE underestimates impact of the terminal doesn’t take into account the monitoring conducted by government agencies and the extensive methodology the state undertook to reach its conclusions.

Mr. Riordan’s essay attempts to overwhelm the reader with specious arguments that are simply not supported by fact. His assumptions of poor calculations in the state’s EIS based upon photographs are speculative at best and unsupported while he simply neglects to acknowledge that the EIS utilizes a more stringent dustfall deposition standard than any other state – or province-level dustfall deposition standard utilized in either the U.S. or Canada.

Dr. Roger O. McClellan, a past chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and an internationally recognized expert in toxicology, shot down the very notion that coal dust means environmental degradation in his own earlier Seattle Times piece, stating:

“Just because a piece of coal is found in the water or coal dust is found near a rail track does not mean humans are exposed to it. Coal is not a substance that breaks down easily. Coal is relatively innocuous. Simply moving it by trains or trucks or barges does not equate to a risk to the environment or human health.”

Rail companies like BNSF have spent a significant amount of time studying and conducting comprehensive research about coal dust over the last decade and deployed state-of-the-art monitoring techniques while investing millions, including in its Pasco respray facility that adds an additional topping agent to the cars, to safely transport coal. These companies are good corporate citizens to Washington and will continue to make the investments required to safely transport all commodities, including coal.   To continue pushing misleading claims that ignore the body of research and facts from the state’s own studies is a disservice to Washingtonians.