Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2018  
  < RETURN  
  Coal Dust in Richmond?
December 18, 2018

Item L-7 on tonights’ agenda is:  DIRECT staff to review a draft ordinance for legality and language and craft an ordinance for a first reading that is as strong or stronger in its ability to protect our community from coal and petroleum coke - Councilmember Eduardo Martinez (620-6593).

There is a presumption that because coal is transported through Richmond, stored in the open at Levin Terminal and loaded onto ships headed for Asia, that coal dust arising from either transportation or handling, or both, is present in Richmond. Until recently, however, I have seen no documented proof provided by any public agency that there is coal dust in Richmond.

We are embarking a study authorized by AB 617 that will make that determination, but the result are perhaps a year or two out. The City of Richmond committed to conduct its own study funded by Levin, but that never materialized.

Meanwhile, I funded my own study based on samples provided voluntarily by residents in the southwest part of Richmond. The samples were analyzed by The McCrone Group, an analytical laboratory in Illinois with special expertise in identifying particulate matter, including coal.

Of seven samples, five tested positive for coal dust. The results are:

Tested Positive:

  • 28 Montana
  • 133 Folett
  • 148 Folett
  • 233 W. Chanslor
  • 128 3r Street

Tested Negative:

  • 153 Lakeshore
  • 120 Broadway

We now know that coal dust is widely present in southwest Richmond, but at this time, there is no way to determine whether the source is from transportation, storage or handling.

Coal dust is a health risk. There is no such thing as a safe health threshold for coal dust ( This is confirmed by the World Health Organization, which states: “There may be no safe threshold for fine particulate matter and the effects are linearly related to concentration.” (World Health Organization & Australian National Pollution Inventory). Coal dust particulates (tiny pieces of coal) are of particular concern because they contain heavy metals which are toxic at low concentrations. They include lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, mercury, antimony, and arsenic, as well as radio isotopes of thorium and strontium. Coal dust, especially fine coal dust, has been identified by health professionals and doctors around the world as causing a range of diseases and health problems. Examples include an increased incidence of heart and respiratory diseases like asthma and lung cancer. Fine invisible coal dust particles less than 2.5 microns long lodge in the lungs and are not naturally expelled, so long-term exposure increases the risk of health problems.

Because of Federal preemption, we cannot regulate the transportation of coal by rail, but we can regulate land uses that involve coal storage and handling, although it is legally murky. Without a shipping facility for coal, there would be no reason to transport cola by rail to Richmond.