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New report sheds light on secret of coal dust in Seward

By Dave Leval Photojournalist: Jacob Curtis - 8:40 PM July 17, 2014

Three environmental groups say there’s a dirty secret about coal you need to know about.

Pamela Miller, who runs the Anchorage-based Alaska Community Action on Toxics, is helping lead the effort to make Seward a safer place to live.

Alaska Community Action on Toxics is one of three environmental groups that studied what they believe is the source of a problem.

The Seward coal loading facility is where the Alaska Railroad brings coal to be loaded onto cargo ships. The environmental groups claim dust generated from the piles as they are moved is creating a big mess, and not just at the facility.

“Coal dust is seen on surfaces and in homes, and in schools and neighborhoods around Seward,” Miller said.

The dust is also creating unseen problems, she said.

“The pollutants can also exacerbate and can cause asthma,” Miller said. “They can cause cardiopulmonary problems in people, they can cause long-term lung damage, and even premature deaths.”

The new report contradicts an older study, which found pollution levels well below federal standards.

The earlier investigation did not take high winds and loading operations into account, Miller said. Those factors can help spread the dust anywhere the cars roll.

The rail cars roll through Anchorage on their way to Seward. Critics point out they have not done a study of that coal to determine the impact on our health.

Miller is among those who want the rail company to clean up its act in Seward before it hauls coal from other portions of the state.

A spokesperson with the Alaska Railroad declined to comment on the report because of pending litigation against the railroad company filed by the environmental groups.

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