Sunday 19 May 2019

Coal Trains: Dust Pollution is a Real Problem

If you live, work or commute along the Anacostia, Potomac, Susquehanna or James Rivers, you have probably seen train cars filled to overflowing with coal traveling alongside these waterways. These railcars are typically not covered, so the dust flows freely into the air as they make their way down the rail line. In fact, an average rail car loses about 500 lbs. of coal dust — dust that contains mercury, arsenic, uranium and other toxins harmful to human health and wildlife (including fish and aquatic life in rivers adjacent to the train tracks). In fact, our Riverkeepers have even found chunks of coal along river banks and in rivers. In November 2007, six cars of coal derailed into the Anacostia River.

Waterkeepers in Washington State scored a big win in federal court recently on the issue of pollutants from coal trains. In a case (Sierra Club Inc. et al. v. BNSF Railway et al.), the railway company admitted that an average of 60,000 lbs. of coal can be lost from each 120-car train.The court ruled that these trains are “point sources” of pollution under the Clean Water Act. This means that the rail company can be held liable for coal discharged directly into navigable waters. Not only did the Court find that railway companies can be liable for coal discharged into nearby waterways, but that Waterkeepers in the state had the legal ability to sue the railway company for such discharges.

The full trial is currently underway and Waterkeepers Chesapeake will closely follow this trial as a ruling against the train company could have profound implications for rail transport of coal in the Chesapeake region.


Photos (above to the left) of fugitive train-sourced coal ash dust located a few feet from the James River, a public walking trail, parkland, homes and businesses...a daily routine affecting families and drinking water sources of millions of Virginians.

We are Waterkeepers Chesapeake, 19 Waterkeepers, Coastkeepers and Shorekeepers from around the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays region. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! 



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                                                                           
October 21, 2016                                                                                                                    

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Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper

Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Carol Parenzan

on the 55,000 gallon oil spill in Lycoming County, PA

Flood Oct 21 2016 Photo 1In the wake of severe flooding in Central Pennsylvania, an 80-year-old pipeline burst early Friday morning, leaking upwards of 55,000 gallons of gasoline into Loyalsock Creek, in Gamble Township, northeast of Williamsport. By mid-day Friday, the spill was working its way into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

Carol Parenzan, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper, said that witnesses who contacted her office said the “smell of petroleum is so thick you can taste it.”

Parenzan said that downstream drinking water is being monitored and precautions for public safety are being put in place. In Milton, just north of Lewisburg, the water plant operated by Pennsylvania American Water, is filling water storage tanks and preparing to shut down drinking water should the spill reach intakes for the water plant.   

Meanwhile, local and state agencies and emergency crews are having difficulty reaching the break due to high-water conditions, which happened on Wallis Run Road in Lycoming County.

“High water and flooding has taken a bridge out in the area,” Parenzan said. “A liquid fuel pipeline in the vicinity was originally exposed during 2011 flooding. When we don’t adequately address aging infrastructure, it is only a matter of time before calamity happens. The time for the Susquehanna River apparently arrived today in the form of this broken pipeline and spill.”

Parenzan said that the area is closed to everyone except emergency workers.

“This spill is not simply an issue of drinking water for people, although that is currently our most pressing concern. In the short- and long-term, fish and other aquatic life simply cannot survive in a contaminated river,” Parenzan said. “It is important that we not only maintain our aging energy infrastructure, but that we also remain vigilant about new pipelines and energy interests that threaten water quality.”

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