Submitted by Faith Ross
February 23, 2015 3:14 p.m.
Recently some interest has surfaced in the proposal that the Port of Fernandina import coal from Columbia. Each time a ‘coal terminal or coal transfer station’ is discussed, the mantra surrounding coal is that it is “clean” coal. So what does it mean to have ‘clean’ coal?
As evidenced by how differently all of us keep our houses clean, our definitions of “clean” may differ greatly. Most dictionaries show two definitions for the word ‘clean’. The first is generally listed as “free from dirt, marks, or stains”. But I prefer to remember that there is a second definition usually given for ‘clean’. This definition contains the words “morally uncontaminated, pure, or innocent”. Money generally does not enter into the discussion of the latter ‘clean”.
With the coal issue, to remain “morally uncontaminated”, one would need to admit that the basic chemical composition of coal has not changed. No matter how many times it is sprayed down, or what grade it is, coal is coal. According to multiple agencies and the Midwest Energy News, 2/20/2013, “known toxins in coal dust include arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals”. And to tell you how little mercury it takes to contaminate water, it needs to be stated that 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. And we have no way of removing mercury from coal or coal dust.
Clearly the rising amounts of mercury in our waters and our fish have caused more than one agency to express concern. Recently the State of Florida has added a website recommending the safe amount of fish you can eat from the state’s various bodies of water due to its mercury content. For some of Florida’s bodies of water, more than one serving of fish per month is hazardous to your health due to high mercury levels. NIH, or the National Institute of Health, now has a video that it recommends parents and teachers show their children concerning mercury consumption and fish. Even in the children’s video, coal is one of the major contaminants shown. The young and infants can suffer debilitating neurological damage from mercury. Mothers pass it to their infants through breast milk. Children and adults become affected through contaminated fish or water. Let’s face it, coal is neither “pure” nor “innocent” when it comes to the definition of ‘clean’.
When industry talks about ‘clean’ coal, the vision becomes one of dark, gleaming, black nuggets neatly stacked in coal cars. Coal dust somehow gets dropped from this picture. Tests run for Norfolk South Rail line, where coal is sprayed with binders, have shown that these agents only limit a portion of a coal train’s coal dust contamination. Visualizing coal cars shedding coal dust along tracks is a more accurate and realistic picture. According to the Norfolk South Rail Study, one pound of dust for each rail car is the general rule. Where the rail cars are sprayed, the wet coal dust seeps to the ground. And where the coal is stored, as in this case it would be at the Port, it must be continually sprayed with water to keep the dust from blowing elsewhere. Where will this coal dust-laden water go? Will we store the coal on barges and allow the rain to wash it into the river?
Are we really going to sacrifice our health and the health of our children with coal? Will we allow our fish to become inedible because someone is trying to convince us that coal is harmless?
A community discussion is taking place concerning these questions. If you would like to express your opinion, attend the City Planning Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday, March 4th at 5 pm in the City Hall Commissioners Chambers at 204 Ash St. Passage of a text amendment prohibiting a “coal transfer station” within the City of Fernandina has been submitted.
YouTube videos related to the topic:
Videos of Coal Train Dust
November 2014 by Firefighters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4v5w-TuhWM
Coal Sprayer for Train – Note coal dust on ground under sprayers
Dust – Loading Coal onto Ship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrtQUEgYjKs
Editor’s Note: As an educator and reading specialist, Faith Ross has taught in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. She and her husband Chip purchased their home in Fernandina 6 years ago and are now residents. Faith enjoys reading, walks on the beach, and dining at the many downtown restaurants that are within walking distance from her home. She also enjoy telling her frequent visitors and friends from out of town that Fernandina is an amazing place to live!