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Virginia officials order tests of coal truck dust in Wise Co. community


Virginia officials have ordered air-quality tests in southwest Virginia communities after hearing from environmentalists who said dust raised by coal trucks is causing a health hazard.

The state Air Pollution Control Board took the action at a Richmond meeting after two environmental groups presented the results of a study they commissioned showing high levels of dust in a Wise County community’s air.

The study by a North Carolina State University professor for the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club measured dust particles in the air of as much as three times the federal standard. In one location, 10 of 12 samples were above the federal standard, while half of the 12 samples were above that level at the other test site.

The measurements were taken during two weeks last August in the community of Roda, which has traffic from nine mining operations.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will begin taking air samples soon in Roda and other mining communities in the region, department spokesman Bill Hayden said.

“It is a serious situation,” he said. “We decided that something needed to be done.”

The air board also voted to send a letter to both the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Health Department asking them to look into health hazards to residents.

Most of the homes in Roda and similar communities in the rugged mountainous area are close to the roads, said Kathy Selvage, of the mountain stewards group. Some are as close as 15 to 20 feet from roads where trucks rumble through.

“In addition to being an environmental issue, it’s also an environmental justice issue,” she said. “A lot of these folks are older. We should allow them to have peace in these last years of their lives.”

The report showed that the dust that filters onto the homes from the heavy truck traffic not only comes from dried mud on the roads, but also from fine particles of the coal they’re hauling.

In addition to recommending more air tests, the study suggested that state regulators require mining operations to wash their trucks, install rumble strips to help remove mud and dust from vehicles, and use roads that bypass residential communities.

Environmentalists said they have tried for years to get state regulators to address air quality in the region, and the board’s action April 24 was unexpected.

“We were surprised and pleased that they took immediate action,” said Glen Besa, Appalachian regional director of the Sierra Club.

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