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Is there coal under Ballard Rail Bridge?

Posted by Danielle Anthony-Goodwin on April 4th, 2013

According to a KUOW web article, there is a chance that Puget Sound divers have discovered pieces of coal in the water under Ballard Railway Bridge. The discovery was made by diver Laura James, who took her video camera on a dive at the bridge to determine what was falling into the water from the passing trains above.

KUOW reported that “after a 20-minute dive, James pops up with handfuls of small black rocks that she believes could be coal.” “We actually started finding this stuff, this black rock-like substance and it was pretty much everywhere,” James said. “When you know what to look for it’s there and when it breaks apart it leaves this sand, this black sandy stuff.”

The rocks that James discovered have been sent to Puget Soundkeeper to be tested to see if they are coal. Before the test results come back, KUOW took the rocks to Ron Eng, manager of the geology collection at the Burke Museum at UW. After examination he confirmed that they could in fact be pieces of coal.

According to the article, approximately three trains travel through Seattle per day transporting coal to be exported through Canada. These trains are currently operated by BNSF, the railway company who are also currently in discussions with the City of Seattle over their clear cutting of trees in the Salmon Bay Natural Area.

KUOW spoke to BNSF spokewoman Courtney Wallace who said, “What was found, we don’t know what it is and coal has been shipped through Washington state by a variety of different methods for more than a century and so there’s no telling how long it’s been there or how it came to be.”

Coal companies must now apply a “surfactant” to control coal coming off trains as it is being transported. On this issue Wallace made further comment, “we don’t believe any commodity including coal should be allowed to escape from our shipping containers,” Wallace said. “Proactive measures are taken to assure the safety of all commodities that we transport.”

According to the article, however, “BNSF Railway has publicly stated that 645 pounds of coal dust can escape from each coal train car.”

Coal contains elements that can be harmful to both fish and waterways.

Click here to check out the EarthFix video report.

Photo courtesy of

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