Eugene Weekly- January 19, 2012

Black lungs

Maps indicate that the coal would be loaded onto trains at the Powder River Basin mines in Montana and Wyoming, taken through Montana into Washington, then through the Columbia Gorge, down the rail line following the I-5 corridor and into Eugene, where the trains would switch rails onto the newly fixed and reopened CBRL.

The CBRL moves west from Eugene toward Florence, then down the coast through Reedsport to Coos Eugene Weekly : Lead Story : 1.19.12[1/20/2012 2:01:12 PM]

Bay, crossing through forests, past towns and over lakes and rivers on its way. Stevens of the Sierra Club says that for humans, the danger from coal dust is in its mercury, arsenic and lead, which could lead to lung cancer and asthma as well as health issues stemming from the small particulate matter that gets into the lungs.

Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics has been working for years on health issues related to train traffic along River Road and in the Trainsong area. Diesel exhaust, like coal dust, is bad for your health. It releases carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and polyaromatic hydrocarbons and their derivatives, Arkin says.

Whatcom Docs, a group of 170 doctors organized against the coal-export terminal in Bellingham, say that diesel particulate matter is associated with increased risk of cancer, pulmonary inflammation and increased heart attacks in adults, and increased asthma and hospital emissions in children.

The doctors say the coal dust from the trains can lead to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis and environmental contamination through the leaching of toxic heavy metals. The doctors also have concerns about delayed response times if ambulances are held up by long coal trains at railroad crossings and warn of increased accidents, traumatic injury and death. Arkin says Union Pacific recently met with a group that included Beyond Toxics, political officials, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency and others to discuss a no-idling policy (UP will turn off a locomotive if it can) to reduce diesel emissions. But UP told the group it can’t enforce the policy on other companies using the tracks.

Stevens says the impacts are economic as well. She says coal trains drive away developers along the rail lines and depreciate property values. Coal trains affect the quality of life with noisy, dirty trains chugging through town. And she argues the coal trains congest valuable resources and infrastructure that “we should be using in a way that benefits our economy.”

Coal is also a safety issue, Stevens says. The coal dust seeps into the ballast (the rocks under the tracks) and makes it more likely a train could derail. Callery says coal dust or, as he calls it, “fugitive emissions,” was a problem 20 years ago, but now “you simply don’t see it.” Companies spray the top of the car with a polymer substance that locks in the dust, he says. Zimmer-Stucky asks, “What happens to that chemical latex when you off-load the coal? Well, it gets burned, too.” She says, “That’s not a solution.” The aquatic organisms around coal-fired power plants and coal mines aren’t the only wet creatures affected by the coal complex. Dan Serres of Columbia Riverkeeper, which has been fighting the coal export terminals along the Columbia River, says the Department of State Lands in December granted the Port of Coos Bay “one of the biggest dredging permits ever issued in the state, and we don’t know what the hell it’s for.”

The dredging, he says, could be for the unknown coal company’s terminal, or for the equally controversial and environmentally problematic liquefied natural gas terminal slated for the port. “LNG and coal, neither one of these things are good for Oregon,” Serres says. Callery says the Port of Coos Bay needs to be deepened as the industry changes and vessels get larger. He says the port will benefit the community if it can remain competitive and develop a diversity of cargo base and not depend entirely on wood products. Neither the dredging nor the building of a new terminal will proceed without environmental impact statements and public input, according to Callery. “There are certain benchmark points in the process, where the public and everyone else has an opportunity to comment on the project,” Callery says. “There are specific standards that must be met to get permitted.” The dredging “is pretty gnarly in terms of the impact on the bay in Coos County,” Serres says. “I don’t think they’ve really done their homework on the impact,” he says, pointing out that dredging could harm salmon, other fish and oysters, which would further harm the area’s fishing industry.