Coal terminal backers challenge researcher's dust findings

Posted by JOHN STARK on March 6, 2014 

A group advocating construction of Northwest coal terminals has issued a lengthy challenge to a UW-Bothell researcher's finding that passing coal trains are shedding significant amounts of coal dust as they pass through Seattle.

The research findings by UW-Bothell's Dan Jaffe found that passing coal trains (as well as other trains) also contributed amounts of microscopic particles from diesel engine exhaust that are high enough to be of concern for those who live near the rail lines.

We reported on that research project in a March 5 blog post, linking to the blog of well-known local weather guru Cliff Mass. Here is Mass's original post on the topic.

Kathryn Stenger, spokesperson for The Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, pulled no punches in reacting to both Mass and Jaffe. Among other things, she noted that in November 2013, Jaffe told a public broadcasting reporter that coal dust from trains "seems to be a non-issue." (Read that report here via Quest and KQED.)

 “Dr. Jaffe’s study failed to find the smoking gun of coal dust and diesel particulates that it was looking for, but ignores its own findings," Stenger said in a press release. "To continue to misrepresent scientific findings in pursuit of a political agenda is not only bad science, it’s bad policy. Washington citizens deserve accurate, scientifically based information on this issue. This study’s findings didn’t fit Jaffe’s hypothesis, but continue to be presented as if they did.”

The press release also repeats past contentions that concerns about coal trains--which already rumble through Seattle and Whatcom County and other parts of the Northwest enroute to Canadian terminals such as Westshore Terminals just north of Point Roberts.

The Alliance press release linked above contains other links to research that seems to minimize the environmental impact of coal trains.

I emailed both Cliff Mass and Dan Jaffe for a response to the Alliance's broadside, and both were quick to reply.

Mass acknowledged that when Jaffe discussed his research with a reporter in November, it appeared that no coal dust was coming off trains. But when Jaffe and his students took actual measurements of air particles, they learned otherwise.

"At first we did not see obvious coal residue on the ground near the N. Seattle train tracks...but the air quality monitors did show evidence of coal dust," Mass said in an email. "Keep in mind that much more coal dust would be coming off the trains earlier in their travels for several reasons...lots of time for coal dust to blow off, the trains are going slow in Seattle, so less wind to blow the dust, etc."

Jaffe, chairman of the Physical Sciences Division at UW-Bothell's School of Science and Technology, said his research has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in a scientific journal entitled Atmospheric Pollution Research, and it speaks for itself.

"It seems like they (the Alliance) did not read our article very carefully," Jaffe said in an email. "It also seems to me that this group doesn't understand the scientific process.  We collected data, analyzed it and submitted our results to a reputable scientific journal.  The work was peer-reviewed and after going through review it has been published in the journal.

"I would encourage anyone who doesn't like the results to conduct their own study and publish the results in a scientific journal.  In my opinion, scientific data and the peer-review process are the best way to uncover the truth."


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