Coal trucks rumbling through neighborhoods in southwest Virginia are trailing dust clouds that violate federal pollution standards, according to a report that advocacy groups released yesterday.
The study conducted by North Carolina State University for the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club analyzed airborne dust along the roads of Roda in Wise County, where trucks haul coal from several mining operations.
The trucks track coal, mud and debris from the mines to the road, where it dries and turns to dust that is stirred up by other vehicles. That dust coats houses and is thought to cause respiratory and other health ailments, researchers found.
A two-week study last summer of two locations along Roda Road found that dust concentrations on roads near the mining operations far exceeded the national air pollution standard.
At one site, 10 of 12 samples had dust exceeding the federal standard, including one that was more than three times the limit. Six of 12 samples at another site also had dust exceeding the national standard.
Coal dust in Roda could suggest a larger problem throughout Appalachia, and researchers are calling for further investigation across the region.
Coarse particulate matter, or dust, can cause respiratory problems, increased asthma attacks, and aggravation of lung or heart disease in some sensitive populations, according to U.S. EPA.
"I am very concerned that the coal dust may be harming my health," said Ronnie Willis, a retired underground coal miner who lives on Roda Road near the entrance to a mountaintop-removal coal mine. "I have been diagnosed with emphysema and black lung, and the coal dust exacerbates my condition."
Scientists and community members plan to present their findings to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board and the state Department of Environmental Quality today. They are urging the board and the DEQ to conduct their own dust investigation and to order mining companies to take precautions to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne.
"We have believed for some time that the quality of the air we breathe is in jeopardy," said Kathy Selvage, vice president of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. "We urge the Air Board and DEQ to take action to reduce this threat to human health and welfare."
DEQ has yet to review the study, DEQ spokesman William Hayden said. "Once the report is evaluated, we will be able to determine what steps are appropriate to take."
Click here to read the report.