Coal in the Northwest

Here are some resources on the effects of coal on human health and the environment in the Pacific Northwest.

Coal’s Assault on Human Health,” Physicians for Social Responsibility – November 2009

 Coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health. This report looks at the cumulative harm inflicted by those pollutants on three major body organ systems: the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and the nervous system. The report also considers coal’s contribution to global warming, and the health implications of global warming.

Coal Exports: A History of Failure,” Columbia Riverkeeper – August 2011

Coal companies are asking Pacific Northwest ports to dedicate large terminals to ship US coal to Asia. But coal is so unattractive that many ports have rejected coal, despite aggressively pursuing new business. Recently, the Port of Tacoma, located on Puget Sound, and the Columbia River Ports of Vancouver, Kalama, and Portland have all considered—and rejected—coal export proposals.

Coal Train: Fossil Fuels Make Tracks Through Oregon,” Eugene Weekly – January 2012

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.

Suit to Stop Coal and LNG,” Eugene Weekly – January 2012

In order to export coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG), both controversial fossil fuels, the Port of Coos Bay needs to dredge and deepen its channel. On Jan. 19 a coalition of groups from Coos Bay residents to environmental organizations filed an appeal of the Oregon Department of State Lands’ (DSL) December decision to issue a dredging permit. …

David Petrie, a Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw tribal member and Coos Waterkeeper, says in a statement, “This destructive project is unnecessary and damaging to the surrounding community.” According to Petrie, industries that depend on the health of the estuary and marine life, such as oyster farms and salmon fisheries, would be negatively affected by the dredging.

Coal train foes sound alarm,” Register Guard – February 2012

The coal industry’s aim is to move mountains of the mineral — about 100 million tons have been confirmed publicly so far — in open-top cars from the Powder River Basin, on the Montana/Wyoming border, to Spokane and then to the scattered ports. …

The dust can pose problems for track-side neighbors and for the railroad itself. In some locations, large amounts of coal dust have fallen, sifted into the rock ballast under rail lines, disturbed the tracks and derailed trains, according to the federal Surface Transportation Board. …

If the proposed Coos Bay terminal is approved, coal cars headed for that port would travel the Union Pacific tracks from Portland into northern Lane County, switch onto the Coos Bay Rail Link at the rail yard near Chambers Street and Roosevelt Boulevard in Eugene, and travel west toward Florence and then south past Coos Bay to Coquille. The Coos Bay line is owned by the Port of Coos Bay.

City of Eugene Sustainability Commission memo to Mayor Piercy and City Council – February 2012

Coal mining, export, and combustion are highly destructive and unsustainable energy development practices that undermine Eugene’s efforts to reduce emissions that cause climate change and develop clean energy jobs. In addition, the Sustainability Commission believes that allowing this transport will have severe social, economic, and environmental consequences. On behalf of the community of Eugene, Council should act proactively and timely to safeguard citizenry and oppose actions, which are contradictory to Eugene’s policies.