Air agency's monitor shows no emissions problems near Bellingham rail crossing

Posted by JOHN STARK on March 7, 2014 

After learning about some troubling air pollution findings near a Seattle rail crossing, local residents might wonder what kind of air pollution readings have been taken near Bellingham rail crossings.

The Northwest Clean Air Agency has the answer. The agency collected more than a year of data with an air pollution monitoring device installed near a rail crossing off Cornwall Avenue.

To view that data, click here. 

On the right side of the screen is a column headed "Monthly Air Quality Summaries."

Day-by-day results for the Bellingham-Cornwall monitoring site are available by clicking on any month between February 2012 to September 2013. 

In early October, 2013, the monitor at that site conked out and has not been replaced, air agency spokeswoman Katie Skipper said.

During the 20 months when the monitor was on the job sampling particulate pollution, it registered air pollution levels that exceeded levels considered "good" on just five days, measured over a 24-hour average, the data indicate.

On those five days, particulate levels were rated "moderate," which is still below the concentrations levels known to cause health problems for some people with high sensitivity.

A UW-Bothell researcher recently published a small-scale study based on air monitors installed near Seattle rail crossings. Well-known western Washington meteorology guru Cliff Mass touted those findings on his blog.

Both Mass and the researcher, Dan Jaffe, concluded that the results showed evidence that measurable amounts of coal dust are coming off passing coal trains, in addition to the diesel exhaust that all trains emit. Jaffe also observed that the diesel exhaust may cause particulate pollution to exceed air pollution standards and trigger health concerns for those near the tracks, at times.

Those observations drew a tart response from the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, a group formed to promote coal terminals like the Gateway Pacific project proposed for Cherry Point in Whatcom County. While coal trains are already rumbling through Bellingham and Seattle on their way to Canadian shipping terminals, Gateway Pacific appears likely to add significantly to the coal train traffic if it operates at full capacity.

Read our blog post on the Alliance's reaction, with rebuttal from Mass and Jaffe.







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