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Coal trains also carry respiratory diseases to communities on their way – study

Research by the University of California, Davis found that trains carrying loads of coal bring with them higher rates of asthma, heart disease, hospitalization and death for residents living nearest the rail lines.

People of colour, as well as young, old, or low-income residents, are affected the most.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research, focuses on the San Francisco Bay Area and is the first-ever health impact assessment of coal train pollution.

While centred on East Bay neighbourhoods, the study has implications for communities living alongside passing coal trains elsewhere in the world. At least 80 countries use coal power, which generates about 40% of the world’s electricity.

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

The study includes parts of Oakland, Berkeley, Martinez and Richmond, where coal is already being transported from Utah mines by rail. The assessment specifically centers on the potential health impacts of a proposed coal terminal under review, which could bring an additional 7.4 million tons of coal per year by rail to the Port of Oakland.

A figure from the UC Davis coal train pollution study shows the study area with estimated PM2.5 concentrations associated with a 2.1 μg/m3 increase in the annual PM2.5 average.

“That translates to about 10 trains per week potentially passing through a densely populated urban area,” Ostro said. “The trains continuously generate microscopic particles–called PM2.5, or fine particles, which are regulated by the US EPA. This results in chronic exposure. The particles can infiltrate the lungs and bloodstream and pose serious health risks.”

To quantify the health impacts of PM2.5 emitted from passing coal trains, the study authors integrated air quality data with medical and demographic information using software mapping and analysis programs. They ran different scenarios for increases in PM2.5 for the roughly 262,000 people who would be exposed.

They found that under the most severe scenario—an increase in annual fine particulates of 2.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air—six additional people would be expected to die each year among this population.

When the authors adjusted the analysis to incorporate the higher risks for people of colour, an estimated 15 total deaths were possible.

The study results also suggested that 28 additional hospital admissions for heart disease, 22 new cases of asthma, 17 additional cases of pneumonia and 58,000 additional days of asthma can be attributable to coal train transit.

Several of these outcomes represent a 3% to 6% increase over current levels.

Under the less severe scenario of 1 microgram per cubic meter of air, additional yearly health impacts would be about 50% lower.

The study also provided race-specific estimates, finding that Hispanic and Black residents have 41% and 29% higher levels of PM25.5 exposure, respectively, relative to white residents.

“Our study is a microcosm of what likely affects millions of city residents throughout the world living near passing, uncovered coal trains that deliver coal to power plants and export terminals,” Ostro said.

Source: MINING.COM – Read More