Concerns about coal train dust in Spokane - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Concerns about coal train dust in Spokane

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

The future of dozens of trains carrying oil and coal through downtown Spokane will be up to you, but should it be?

That’s the questions railroad companies are raising after Spokane’s city council decided to put a major proposal on the November ballot. The measure is asking to fine railroad companies $261 for each car of crude oil and coal that passes through town.

BNSF says railroads are obligated by common carrier laws to move these products. But city leaders argue that there is a different federal law that allows local governments to change rules to deal with local safety hazards if the Department of Transportation doesn’t.

While this is playing out, some critics here in town are concerned about the health hazard of what these trains leave behind. They say it’s coal dust.

Dave Plemons is concerned with how close the trains are to his apartment and how many come through downtown.

“You can often see puffs of dust coming off them as they bounce and jostle along the tracks,” he says.

He believes it's fine dust from the coal cars.

“For our breathing impaired public that is downtown on their scooters, wheelchairs, with their oxygen supplement, this can't be good for all of those folks,” he says.

BNSF says they spray the coal with surfacten. It’s a chemical that prevents the dust from getting out of the train cars. The rail company also did their own test, and they say they didn’t find any evidence of dusting after they sprayed the cars with the chemical in their right of way. They also say they now spray the cars twice with surfacten.

A University of Washington professor says researched this too. Dr. Dan Jaffe says dust can still make its way out even with the spray, like if there are high winds or bumpy tracks.

Dave just hopes something different is done.

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