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April 18, 2012

Dirty Coal Dust Pollution: The Numbers Speak for Themselves

CoalWhat is it going to take for state agencies to listen to the entire communities of people struggling to breathe from Big Coal's pollution?

When the Sierra Club and the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) partnered to scientifically study the coal dust and residue that rumbling coal trucks dump on Virginia communities, they found cases of pollution levels as high as three times the federal standard.

"We took these results to Richmond to gain some enforcement. But the Department of Environmental Quality kept saying it was invalid," recalls SAMS Vice President Jane Branham.

That study has now been published in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Environment. Now you can see for yourself whether the study's alarming findings should be disregarded in such a cavalier fashion by an agency that's supposed to protect public health.

The study, conducted in 2008, focused on the small population of Roda, Virginia, located in the heart of Appalachia, where coal trucks and mining sites are common, and neighborhoods have deteriorated because of Big Coal's conduct.

For the study, two air samplers, placed between a road and a home, operated for 12 days to get a sense of what families were being exposed to. At one location, ten of the 12 readings exceeded national standards with one clocking in at three times the standard. At the other location, six of 12 readings exceeded standards.

Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and nickel were all traced in these samples. In fact, Roda's pollution levels in the study were comparable to the results of similar studies conducted near coal sites in the Czech Republic, Turkey, and India.

"I was not surprised at all by the results. It looks like a war zone with a big black cloud over the whole area," says Branham.

The study's numbers speak for themselves. But it shouldn't take peer-reviewed science for public officials to do the right thing and protect families. Branham said that two years ago, people in the town of Stonega, in Wise County -- frustrated by the layers of coal dust leftover from trucks -- got so fed up, there was a sign of protest on every home.

"Every house had a sign that said things like, 'We're choking on dust.' From what neighbors told me, someone came in the middle of the night and painted over the signs. Finally to get us off coal's backs, regulators only asked the coal industry to take voluntary measures to install truck washers and use street sweepers.”

But these voluntary measures only apply to Stonega and Roda.

"There are so many more communities dealing with fugitive dust," says Branham.

Unsurprisingly, coal companies and their friends in Congress continue to look for ways to loosen up regulations, which would just make more people sick. Click here to tell Congress to get its priorities straight and protect families from Big Coal’s pollution!

-- Brian Foley

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