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Study: Coal Trains Pollute the Columbia River Gorge More Than Diesel Trains

November 24, 2015

A study from the University of Washington shows coal trains are releasing more pollution into the Columbia River Gorge than freight trains.

The trains emitted about twice the particulates as diesel freight trains, according to the study.

The study also found that coal trains with uncovered cars were major polluters of the Gorge. They polluted at six times the rate of diesel trains.

Principal investigator Dr. Dan Jaffe called these open-top trains “super dusters.” They accounted for about 5 percent of coal trains. 

“I would say that for some reason, on that fraction of the trains that are super dusters, something’s gone wrong,” Jaffe said. “That’s a controllable problem.”

The study wasn’t long enough to prove these trains are breaking clean air standards. It lasted only six weeks, and the Environmental Protection Agency requires three years to prove violations.

However, emissions from these trains on the ground were obvious.

“This is a large, visible, inhalable cloud of dust that you’re talking about,” Jaffe said. "And it is not something that I would want to breath everyday.”

Coal trains rolled by the cameras set up by Jaffe and his team two or three times a day, and made up a fifth of the trains observed. Super dusters were seen about once a week. 

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File photo of a coal mining operation in Wyoming. Government officials there want to use state money to help finance construction of shipping terminals in the Northwest to export Wyoming coal to Asia.

Michael Werner/KCTS9