How Real Is the Threat of Coal Dust?

A cautionary tale from British Columbia.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

Here’s a coal terminal that wants to be a good neighbor:

…a new process the company is implementing to help homeowners deal with coal dust on their property. Residents affected by the dust can now fill out a form and drop it off at the district office to be relayed to RTI.

RTI will then send out a contractor to power wash the coal dust off a homeowner’s property.

Get that? If you’re lucky enough to live near the Prince Rupert coal export facility in northern BC, now you can fill out a form to request that a contractor power wash the coal dust off your house. For free!

Thanks, coal company! Thanks for agreeing to have someone wash off the toxic dirt that you coated my home with!

I’m being sarcastic, but this is no laughing matter: coal dust is well known to harm human health.

If you don’t think coal dust is a problem near export terminals, then take a look at this photo taken in June 2011 near BC’s Ridley Terminal. I’m serious: go look at it.

The photo shows a black cloud of dust towering over the fir trees on Ridley Island. That’s what the coal stacks produce when it’s dry and windy. And that’s why local newspaper coverage includes tidbits like this:

…a massive coal-dust cloud on June 6 that obscured the clear sky and dirtied people’s patio furniture and decks.

“We have brought this up over the years, this is not the first time…I have never seen the coal dust as bad as it is in these pictures,” added mayor Dave MacDonald.

Bjorndal also raised concerns about what the proposed expansion to Ridley Terminals will mean, noting that coal dust from the terminal seems to have increased when RTI went from handling two million tonnes per year to handling eight million tonnes and is now planning to create 24 million tonnes of capacity at the site.

We’ve already documented coal dust problems at terminals in Seward Alaska and the Port Metro Vancouver complex. Now we can add the Prince Rupert export facility to the list of cautionary tales from coal export terminals.

Don’t forget that the Ridley Terminals facility already has sophisticated coal dust suppression technology. And the coal dust problems there are arising from just 8 or 9 million tons of coal. Coal companies want to ship 5 or 6 times as much coal from Longview and Cherry Point, Washington.

We are a community-supported resource and we can’t do this work without you!



  1. Jessica says:

    If they power wash the coal dust off the house, doesn’t it just go into the garden, yard, or stormdrain? What impacts does that have? I’m assuming they don’t capture and treat the wash water…

    • Eric de Place says:

      I think that’s right, Jessica, and it’s an excellent point. Coal dust is nasty stuff — containing arsenic and other nasties — and it’s not the kind of stuff you want on your home or yard. I’m not familiar with water quality studies near Prince Rupert that evaluate the impact of coal dust, but studies like that near the Westport coal terminal in southern BC have identified significant harm to water quality and marine life owing to coal dust escape.

      • David Alpert says:

        I think you dont like coal as a fuel and you are trying to scare people – is that ethical? Just stick to the problems with coal as a fuel – there are enough – you dont need to exaggerate the health risks. Talk to a toxicologist (as I have), dont listen to coal hating family doctors who are happy to scare people too.

  2. Liz Banse says:

    Nasty stuff. Very 19th century. Thanks for airing this (pun intended!).

  3. John Newcomb says:

    Ridley Terminals – another “great” Canadian public enterprise:

  4. Callie Jordan says:

    It doesn’t take much of a breeze to kick up the dust. And when they’re traveling, speeds are 50-60 mph. This is a video of PA coal transport, which isn’t as dusty as Wyoming’s:

  5. SUE POCOCK says:


  6. THE BEAST says:

    I would like to know what methods they are using because some work perfectly

Leave a Comment

Please keep it civil and constructive. Our editors reserve the right to monitor inappropriate comments and personal attacks.


You may add a link with HTML: <a href="URL">text to display</a>