A citizen effort to stop coal dust escaping from rail cars passing through the Shuswap has brought about a pilot project intended to do just that.
In late June, Marijke Dake was asked to attend a meeting with CP Rail director of government affairs Mike LoVecchio, Teck Resources Ltd.’s Craig Olley, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, City of Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper and Columbia Regional District Shuswap chair and Electoral Area E Director Rhona Martin. During this meeting, Dake learned that CP and Teck would be initiating a pilot project to address concerns she raised last fall regarding coal dust.
The project involves a mobile spray station on the tracks approximately eight kilometres west of Revelstoke. There, passing coal cars will be sprayed with water, with the hope this will help keep coal dust from escaping as coal trains make their way to a Tappen spray station where a polymer surfactant is reapplied to better hold the coal in place.
After having met with local government officials and overseeing a petition to have something done about the coal dust, Dake is very pleased to see CP and Teck come up with a possible solution as quickly as they have.
“We couldn’t ask more of how they responded and, you know, admitted that yes, there was a problem with coal dust and let’s address it and let’s see what we can do to reduce it as it comes through Canoe and Salmon Arm and Sicamous – I mean, this is east of Sicamous as well, and Malakwa. Everyone is benefiting and Tappen, all the way through to Carlin and Notch Hill,” said Dake.
CP Rail confirms a wet-down facility is now operating west of Revelstoke. It will be monitored throughout the summer to test the effectiveness of the facility.
Cooper shares Dake’s appreciation for CP and Teck coming up with a solution in a timely fashion.
“I thought this was going to be a lot longer process than it has been; they’ve been really great about this,” said Cooper.
In January 2018, Dake shared her considerable research into the coal dust problem with the CSRD board. With help from Cooper, she’d already arranged a meeting with LoVecchio to discuss her concerns and suggest another spray facility be set up east of the Shuswap.
“He said there’s no commitment at this time,” Dake told the board. “He said we’re going to put some testing processes in place… it was a very positive email.”
Dake explained to the board that the coal cars originate from the Elk Valley where Teck mines metallurgical coal. There, the coal is loaded into rail cars and sprayed with a polymer to hold it in place. Between Rogers Pass and the Shuswap, however, the surfactant loses its effectiveness and coal dust is able to escape.
Dake noted that while Transport Canada doesn’t consider metallurgical coal a dangerous or hazardous good, Teck’s own safety documentation warns, “May cause damage to the respiratory system through prolonged or repeated inhalation of dust; Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects; Do not breathe dust; and avoid release into the environment.”
Through her presentations and meetings, Dake quickly found allies in the CSRD and its member municipalities and electoral areas, and in Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo.
In a letter addressed to LoVecchio, Kyllo says the coal dust issue came to his attention in August 2017, when he was attending an event at Sicamous Beach Park and witnessed a significant amount of coal dust emanating from rail cars crossing Sicamous Narrows.
“I also received numerous concerns from marina operators in the Sicamous channel citing evidence of coal dust on boats and equipment in the vicinity of the bridge,” said Kyllo.
With the pilot project now underway, Dake says the public can help by reporting what they see from passing coal cars to CP.
“If they do observe any coal dust, please note the engine numbers, there’s one in the middle and there’s one at the back…,” said Dake. “They’re not always the same number, but if you get two of those numbers on the train or at least one of them, they can trace that train and look into the log book and see what time it was sprayed and all of the rest. It’s very helpful for the feedback. And, if you’re watching coal trains and you see nothing, that’s also very helpful in the monitoring of this over the next three months.”