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Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

November 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM

New research from UW Bothell professor adds fuel to coal-train fight

The University of Washington Bothell professor who crowdfunded his research on how trains affect pollution has found that allowing many more coal trains could worsen air quality for those living near tracks — but supporters of a controversial coal train proposal were quick to question the study.

Dan Jaffe, a professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry, announced Monday that his study found that coal trains caused a significant increase in diesel exhaust in the air. If rail traffic were to grow by 50 percent, he said, some neighborhoods along the tracks could be at risk of exceeding air quality standards.

The research, conducted by Jaffe and four students, took place at the Columbia River Gorge and a private home in Seattle’s Blue Ridge neighborhood. It is currently being peer reviewed before potential publication in an online journal.

The findings may not be particularly surprising in light of other studies, including one by the University of Washington released last month that found there is likely more diesel exhaust in South Park and Georgetown than Beacon Hill and Queen Anne due to commercial truck traffic.

But Jaffe acknowledged his $24,000, online-funded study was short in duration — just one month, compared to the minimum three years the federal government requires when assessing compliance with air quality standards.

Critics questioned the study hours before it was even announced.

A statement from the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, which is rallying support for proposals to build coal export terminals in Whatcom and Cowlitz counties to ship Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia, called Jaffe an “anti-coal activist.”

“Jaffe’s research has a history of supporting his own personal political views, including past work in support of a Sierra Club-led effort to close area power plants,” according to the statement, which also said rail is the much more environmentally friendly than trucking.

Comments | More in Government | Topics: Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, coal trains, Dan Jaffe


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