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Costs of Coal Exports, Part II: Desiree Bullard of Maryland


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07 October 2013, 8:10 AM
Dust and soot become part of the air her family breathes
Desiree and her dog in their backyard, as a train rumbles past on tracks less than a hundred feet from her home. (Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

(This is the second in a four-part series profiling communities that could be seriously impacted by increased toxic air and water pollution resulting from the federal government’s financing of the export of Appalachian coal to Asia.)

This week we meet Desiree Bullard,  who lives in Cumberland, Maryland, along rail lines that are experiencing increased traffic from open-topped train cars full of Appalachian coal heading to the Port of Baltimore for export.

This is her story:

Bullard lives on the other side of the state from Baltimore's coal export facilities. But at her home in Western Maryland, where she's lived for 20 years, she feels its impacts every day. Her backdoor is roughly 75 feet from railroad tracks over which open coal trains rumble, en route to Baltimore from mining operations in the mountains of Appalachia.

At least once a day, she sees a train roll through the CSX line with coal cars that are open. Dust flies off of the tops of them into her neighborhood.

A CSX coal train rounds a curve in West Virginia. Coal destined for export is brought by rail from mining operations in Appalachia to Baltimore's facilities, passing through many communities. (JPMueller99)
A CSX coal train rounds a curve in West Virginia. Coal destined for export is brought by rail from mining operations in Appalachia to Baltimore's facilities, passing through many communities. (JPMueller99)

"The dust and soot don't have far to go to before they're part of the air my family and I breathe," says Bullard. "The fact that there will be more coal transported through my community and more dust and soot in the air definitely concerns me."

Bullard's concerns are well-founded. A study in Virginia found that, on average, a pound of coal dust blows off of each coal car per mile travelled. That's a total of 25–30 tons of coal dust polluting rail communities like hers from one single mine-to-port trip.

The trains impact the quality of life of Bullard and her mother, a nurse. The loud noise makes outdoor conversation impossible. She and her mother are avid gardeners, but fear that coal dust and soot contaminates the soil they use to grow food.

Rail tracks used by coal trains, midground in the photo above, run just dozens of feet from Desiree's home. (CCAN)
Rail tracks used by coal trains, midground in the photo above, run just dozens of feet from Desiree Bullards home. (CCAN)

More trains rumbling by her home could increase the risk of dangerous accidents and reduce the value of the family home she stands to inherit.

Bullard's also concerned about the big-picture problem that the coal trains rumbling through her neighborhood are helping to fuel—global warming.

"I am especially concerned about global warming and its effects on the environment and health of my friends, family, and future generations," she says. "For the safety of all communities, we need to reduce, not expand, our use of fossil fuels like coal.

"Norfolk Southern Rail Emission Study." Prepared by Simpson Weather Associates, Inc.
in Charlottesville, VA. 30 December 1993.

Desiree Bullard's story was recorded and generously made available
by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Margaret Fox. (CCAN)

Next week, in the third part of this series, we hear from Margaret Fox, a long-time resident of the Curtis Bay neighborhood, which is located near the CSX coal export and processing facility at the Port of Baltimore.

If you missed it, read in part one about Lorraine Ortega of Virginia's story and Earthjustice's challenge of the U.S. Export-Import Bank's approval of financial support for coal exports.

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