Concern about coal dust from passing trains prompts B.C. petition

A Salmon Arm, B.C. woman is concerned about potential negative effects of coal dust on health and the environment and she has started a petition asking for additional safeguards from CP Rail.

Salmon Arm, B.C., woman wants CP to add additional re-spray station to help prevent dust escaping

Coal is sprayed with a glue-like polymer at the CP re-spray station in Tappen, B.C. (Jonathan Savoy/YouTube)

A resident of Salmon Arm, B.C., is fighting to get an additional safeguard in place for Interior communities affected by oily, black dust spread by passing coal trains.

Canadian Pacific Railway already has two spray stations in B.C. — facilities which spray coal with a glue-like polymer in order to prevent residue from escaping, as seen in the video below.

But Marijke Dake has been concerned about the lack of facilities east of Salmon Arm ever since she noticed coal dust escaping a passing train last summer.

I think initially it was just the shock of seeing the blackening in the air. When I saw it, I thought, how can this be healthy?" said Dake.

"People have told me that they see it on their balconies, on their patio furniture, on their siding. It's very difficult to get off."

Petition underway

She is also particularly concerned about the potential impact on people who walk or ride bikes in the area.

"The coal dust that you can see is visible but there's also the invisible or the microscopic [particles] that, over the long term, can accumulate in the very deep part of the lungs," she said.

In a letter to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, Dake points out there is currently only one re-spray facility — in Tappen, B.C. — for all CP coal trains travelling from East Kootenay mines to Port Metro Vancouver.

The facility is located approximately 30 kilometres west of Salmon Arm, and Dake would like CP to add an additional facility east of the city.

She has collected 145 signatures on a petition stating "that CP coal trains be re-sprayed east of Salmon Arm in order to reduce the negative effects of coal dusting on people's health, property and the environment." 

Not a hazardous material, says CP

In an emailed statement, CP said it appreciates hearing concerns from residents.

"We have engaged directly with residents and communities about this issue and will continue to do so," said Andy Cummings, manager of media relations.

"CP has procedures in place to mitigate coal dusting when it is observed in the field. We will consider what measures might be needed to address the issue going forward."

On the CP website, the company also states "coal is not considered a dangerous or hazardous material by Transport Canada and is safely handled by thousands of workers every day."

Dake said her letter to the regional district was "very positively received" and she was told local officials will be raising her concerns with CP as well as with area MLAs.

With files from CBC's Radio West and Josh Pagé.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.