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Coal Trains Linked to Respiratory Issues in Communities

Study Finds Increased Risk of Asthma, Heart Disease Near Rail Lines

by Victor Adetimilehin

A new study by the University of California, Davis suggests that coal trains may be contributing to respiratory health problems in communities located near railway lines. The research, published in the journal Environmental Research, focused on the San Francisco Bay Area and is the first to assess the health impacts of coal train pollution.

Exposure to Fine Particles Raises Health Concerns

The study centered on the potential health effects of transporting coal by rail, specifically in East Bay neighborhoods like Oakland, Berkeley, Martinez, and Richmond. These areas already see coal transported from Utah mines. The researchers were particularly interested in the potential health impacts of a proposed coal terminal under review at the Port of Oakland, which could significantly increase coal transported by rail.

The study found that communities exposed to coal trains experience chronic exposure to PM2.5, tiny particles regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that can infiltrate the lungs and bloodstream, posing serious health risks. The researchers used air quality data, medical information, and demographics to estimate the health impacts of PM2.5 emissions from passing coal trains.

Disproportionate Impact on Vulnerable Populations

The study revealed a potential increase in deaths, hospital admissions for heart disease, new asthma cases, and additional days of asthma suffering for residents exposed to coal trains. The most severe scenario predicted an additional six deaths per year among the exposed population due to a 2.1 microgram per cubic meter increase in annual fine particulates. When adjusted for race, the study found that Black and Hispanic residents faced a significantly higher risk of PM2.5 exposure compared to white residents.

The lead author of the study, Bart Ostro, a scientist with the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center, highlighted the global implications of the findings. “These trains run all over the world, exposing the poorest populations who often live close to the train tracks,” Ostro said in a statement. “As a result, these impacts have local and global implications.”

Concerns Extend Beyond the Bay Area

While the study focused on the San Francisco Bay Area, its findings hold significance for communities worldwide situated near coal train routes. At least 80 countries rely on coal power, generating about 40% of the world’s electricity. This research suggests that coal transportation by rail may be a significant contributor to respiratory health problems in these areas, particularly for vulnerable populations.

Source: Mining.com


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