Norfolk Southern permeates its own hometown, Norfolk, Virginia, with coal dust.




(Where to complain)


(What YOU can do)



(SEE the polluting) 

Swipe Tests

(How and Why)


(Coal terminal)

Smigiel Letter

(City Council resolution)


(The published facts)

The DEQ's Mission Statement

"Protecting Virginia's Environment"

Mission Statement

"DEQ protects and enhances Virginia's environment, and promotes the health and well-being of the citizens of the Commonwealth."

Bear in mind as you read on that the DEQ has estimated that 90,000 lb. of coal dust per year blows from Norfolk Southern's coal loading facilities into residential neighborhoods (though this estimate seems to be ridiculously low, as will be explained below). ODU researchers have found that arsenic levels in nearby neighborhood soils are five times higher than normal due to airborne coal dust.



Norfolk Southern's Pier 6 Exempt from the Clean Air Act

Norfolk Southern's Pier 6 coal loading facilities were built before the federal Clean Air Act was enacted. Therefore, for the past 50+ years, these facilities have been grandfathered and are exempt from complying with the provisions of that act.

Besides the ludicrousness of allowing a giant corporation to pollute residential neighborhoods and public waterways for over half a century just because of when it was built, how is this exemption even fair in a business sense? Any railroad building coal loading facilities after enactment of the Clean Air Act, including Norfolk Southern, would have to build those facilities to operate under the provision of that act. So why give a polluting existing facility a pass, and one that lasts in perpetuity? Some leaway in implementing fixes might be in order, but why allow such a faility to keep on keeping on with its dirty ways for over half a century? After all, during that 50+ years, Norfolk Southern has had plenty of time to upgrade its equipment to make it compliant with the Clean Air Standards and it has made way more than enough money to do so without putting barely a dent in its profits.

So the Clean Air Act is out, but, the State of Virginia has other regulations that can be used to mandate that Norfolk Southern clean up its act — that is, if the state wants to.

DEQ Definition: "Air pollution" means the presence in the outdoor atmosphere of one or more substances which are or may be harmful or injurious to human health, welfare or safety, to animal or plant life, or to property, or which unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment by the people of life or property.


But Virginia's Fugitive Dust Regulations Still Apply

Fugitive Dust Emissions (9 VAC 5-40-90)

Wherein we read:

"No owner or other person shall cause or permit any materials or property to be handled, transported, stored, used, constructed, altered, repaired or demolished without taking reasonable precautions to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne. Such reasonable precautions may include, but are not limited to, the following:  Open equipment for conveying or transporting materials likely to create objectionable air pollution when airborne shall be covered or treated in an equally effective manner at all times when in motion."

Clearly this applies to Norfolk Southern's open-air rotary railcar dumpers, which convey coal cars and their cargo from an upright position to a position in which the coal falls into bins beneath the dumpers. So why doesn't the DEQ use this straightforward regulation to make Norfolk Southern cover those dumpers and trap all that coal dust that spews out of them into the air — and the neighborhoods and the waters of the Elizabeth River? Is coal dust not objectionable enough?


Reasonable Precautions

Here's the catch: "Reasonble precautions to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne." Since using water sprays to keep the dust down is considered to be the "industry standard," and since Norfolk Southern uses such water sprays, according to the DEQ, this constitutes "reasonable precautions," even though these sprays are obviously letting lots of dust escape into the air. But shouldn't "reasonable" take into account how well a measure works and not just how much it costs?


Economic Impact

The DEQ also says it has to consider the economic impact of its regulations on polluting corporations. After all, Norfolk Southern claims it is not "cost effective" to cover its coal cars and enclose its rotary dumpers, and it just cannot afford to do these things. Really. Let's consider what it would cost Norfolk Southern to stop its polluting: Consider that Norfolk Southern's annual revenues exceed $11.6 billion, and its profit margin exceeds 17%! So is a onje time expenditure of 1% or less of its annual revenues too much for Norfolk Southern to spend in order to stop it polluting and start being a trtuly good neighbor?


See 5 Dirty Dumps in 15 Minutes

To prove that the dumpers are doing serious air polluting, and doing it repeatedly, videos were taken on Friday, May 15, 2015, just a few minutes apart to show that plumes of coal dust now rise into the air from the dumpers, and they rise on successive dumps, not just every 4th or 5th dump as a DEQ inspector once reported:

9:57 A.M.


10:00 A.M.


10:02 A.M.


10:06 A.M.


10:12 A.M.



Startling Admissions from Norfolk Southern

Here is what a Norfolk Southern spokeslawyer said about this last video:

"There was no problem with the dust suppression system last Friday. All nozzles were working and the dust suppression agent was being added to the water. Since we do not know when the video was taken we cannot identify the type of coal that was being dumped at the time. Some coals are dustier than others. It is important to note that the dust suppression agent causes the dust to fall to the ground more quickly, reducing the chance that the dust leaves the property."

Things important to note about what this lawyer said (note that lawyers are guys who are trained to use just the right —as in the least incriminating — words): The amount of coal dust seen coming out of Norfolk Southern's dumpers in this video is not due to a malfunction, but to normal operation of the dumpers; so Norfolk Southern considers this amount of coal dust pollution escaping its dumpers to be acceptable (apparently Virginia's Dept. of Environmental Quality does too); the coal dust can plainly be seen rising high into the sky, not falling quickly to the ground. But even if the dust suppression agent the spokeslawyer speaks of worked as described (something the lawyer said is important to note), since the dumpers are located right next to the Elizabeth River, wouldn't this mean that coal dust has to be falling into the adjacent waters of the Elizabeth River? Also, if "some coals are dustier than others," then why isn't Norfolk Southern's dust suppression system robust enough to handle these dustier coals?

Yet the DEQ actually claims to be concerned about water pollution. See its online "Report Pollution" form. Note the box for reporting "any water bodies that may have been impacted."


What about other Norfolk Southern sources of coal dust?

The videos below show coal dust getting airborne from Norfolk Southern's massive 140' tall Pier 6 shiploaders, the first from the uncovered coal conveyor on a loading boom and the second from a telescoping chute that directs coal into a ship's holds:



See more coal dust polluting videos on YouTube

According to the DEQ, these fugitive dust regulations would apply only to stationary equipment, and not to moving conveyances like coal cars — which, when uncovered, allow lots of coal dust to blow into the air.


Is the DEQ's Fugitive Coal Dust Estimate Absurdly Low?

The DEQ has estimated that about 90,000 pounds (45 tons) of airborne coal dust blows off of Norfolk Southern's Lamberts Point facilities per year. That would be a tiny fraction of the 20 million or so tons of coal that Norfolk Southern hauls through that facility each year. So how — and maybe more importantly, why — did the DEQ come up with this ridiculously low-ball estimate?

Before we just accept the DEQ's estimate willy-nilly, we should remember too that DEQ inspectors have claimed that they rarely see coal dust plumes rising from Norfolk Southern’s dumpers. Since a single coal car carries about 120 tons of coal, that 20 million ton annual figure amounts to approximately 170,000 coal car loads. This would mean 85,000 dumper flips, since the dumpers flip two car at once, and we have seen above how much coal dust billows out of the dumpers when they flip. If those clouds amounted to only one pound of dust by weight each (which would be 2 parts per million of the 240 tons of coal that is dumped with each flip), the dumpers alone would account for 85,000 tons of airborne coal dust per year.

But we also have to factor in other Norfolk Southern sources of airborne coal dust before we absolve Norfolk Southern of serious polluting. It has been estimated that roughly one pound of coal dust blows off of uncovered coal cars per mile of track that they travel — and, of course, Norfolk Southern has refused to cover its coal cars, just as it has refused to enclose its dumpers. Norfolk Southern’s Lamberts Point terminal is roughly one mile long and contains 62 miles of track. It can store as many as 6,200 coal cars waiting to be dumped at a time.

At the rate of one pound per mile, 170,000 pounds of coal dust per year could blow off of 170,000 loaded coal cars as they entered the terminal and rolled the one mile across it. And how much more coal dust would blow off these cars as they sat for days on the storage tracks waiting to be dumped? Since Lamberts Point juts into the wide Elizabeth River, stiff brisk breezes off the water are not uncommon. In a stiff breeze, the proprietor of this website has witnessed a considerable amount of coal dust being whipping off the cars as they were slowly hauled up to the dumpers. Coal dust doesn't only blow from coal cars when they arespeeding down the tracks in the hinterlands.

If there were an average of 3,000 fully loaded coal cars waiting to be dumped per year, and only one pound of coal dust blew off them per day — an incredibly conservative estimate — that alone would come to 1,095,000 pounds of coal!

But the coal dust that blows from Lamberts Point is only a small part of the big pollution picture. Consider how much coal dust polluting Norfolk Southern does as it hauls all those fully loaded coal cars roughly 300 miles across Virginia. At the estimated rate of one pound of coal dust blown off a car per mile, hauling 20-40 million tons a year could mean 25,000-50,000 tons of airborne coal dust per year! Year after year after year. Get the picture now?



See the amazing amount of coal dust that can blow off these trains

A coal industry analysis of coal dust blowing off of railcars

One railroad admits to how much coal blows off of coal cars


Are the Watchdogs Trustworthy?

Did the DEQ tell the Norfolk City Council a whopper?

On April 28, 2015, a representative from the DEQ told the Norfolk City Council in a public meeting the following regarding coal dust complaints from citizens:

"Once we have a complaint, it depends on the complaint. If it’s a complaint that says I just saw a bunch of dust going up, there’s a large plume, something of that nature, we will contact the facility or we will go out and inspect and see exactly what has happened. If we have a complaint, someone says I have a lot of dust on my window sill, it’s very difficult for us to go out and do something about it at that point. So if we’re contacted very close to an incident or during an incident, we’re able to definitively address that, and that’s our normal procedure, to go out and address it.”

However, ten days later, on May 8, 2015, the same DEQ representative emailed the following information to a ciktizen after that citizen reported seeing many plumes of coal dust repeatedly rising into the air from Norfolk Southern's dumpers and reported that the incident was ongoing:

"Please be aware that DEQ's response to this and similar complaints that may be forwarded in the future is to is to [sic] obtain valid air monitoring data for review by the Health Department. At this time, I do not propose that DEQ will follow up with a site visit or contact the facility."


Watch the DEQ address the Norfolk City Council:



Three Interesting Points About This Apparent Change in Policy

1) This study "to obtain valid air monitoring data for review by the Health Department" was mentioned during the same meeting with the Norfolk Cty Council in which the DEQ told the Council that "if it’s a complaint that says I just saw a bunch of dust going up, there’s a large plume, something of that nature, we will contact the facility or we will go out and inspect and see exactly what has happened." Yet now the DEQ is using this study as an excuse not to do the very thing that it told the Council that it does and will do.

2) During the meeting with the City Council, the DEQ admitted that in the past 15 years, it had only inspected Norfolk Southern's dumpers 6 times, and that only one of these times did the DEQ inspector notice coal dust plumes escaping from the dumpers, and then on only every fourth or fifth dump.

In just a few months the proprietor of this website has observed Norfolk Southern's dumpers in action more times than the DEQ has inspected them in 15 years, and every time he watched Norfolk Southern load a ship, he noted repeated coal dust plumes rising from the dumpers. So what gives, DEQ? And if coal dust plumes rising from the dumpers are as rare as the DEQ alleged, why in the world would the DEQ not jump at the chance to witness them? Isn't protecting the community from such environmental degradations supposed to be the DEQ's job? After all, the DEQ assured the Norfolk City Council that if anyone complained about "a large plume, something of that nature, we will contact the facility or we will go out and inspect and see exactly what has happened."

Why can't the DEQ train a camera on these dumpers and watch them 24-7? Is it because the DEQ can no more afford its own cameras than it can afford its own air monitors — instead of having to use Norfolk Southern's air monitors?


See More YouTube videos of coal dust escaping the dumpers

3) The complaint that coal dust plumes were observed as Norfolk Southern loaded a coal ship named "Seabiscuit" was first reported to the DEQ in the morning of May 7, 2014. It was reported to the DEQ again a couple of hours later as coal dust continued pouring out of the dumpers and into the sky. Yet DEQ opted not to investigate this complaint.

Loading "Seabiscuit":


Another Study?

Now the DEQ is going to do a year-long study (plus two to three months for Norfolk Southern to provide air monitors for them, plus several months more to analyze the data) to see whether the coal dust in the air is harmful. So why is the DEQ not using its own air monitors instead of relying on air monitors owned and operated by Norfolk Southern? In other words, at least another one and a half to two years for Norfolk Southern to pollute with impunity while DEQ conducts another study that will be tainted by Norfolk Southern's involvement — Norfolk Southern with its obvious conflict of interest.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, May 1, 2015:

"State agencies to study effects of coal dust in Norfolk"

"The first step in the study is to gather reliable air quality data, said Chuck Turner, the state Department of Environmental Quality’s director of air-quality monitoring. The DEQ is gathering the data for the Department of Health to analyze.

Norfolk Southern, since at least 1994, has gathered data from its own air monitor near the terminal that company officials have said shows particulate matter is below government standards. However, that data can’t be used because it wasn’t gathered in accordance with state regulations that call for a detailed plan outlining methodology, Turner said.

Norfolk Southern plans to install two new air monitors to gather fresh data under the guidance of the DEQ. That data will be turned over to the Health Department for a 'health assessment.'

One of the new monitors will be in the same location as the old one – at a nearby Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plant. The other will be off Redgate Avenue, between West Ghent and Lamberts Point, two neighborhoods where residents have complained about coal dust.

The new monitors should be up and running in 60 to 90 days, a Norfolk Southern spokeswoman said in an e-mail."


The Once-Every-6th-Day Monitoring Schedule

(Norfolk Southern might want to work its dumping schedule around this)


Does this new study make any kind of sense?

Let's consider the wording of the applicable Fugitive Dust Regulation:

"No owner or other person shall cause or permit any materials or property to be handled, transported, stored, used, constructed, altered, repaired or demolished without taking REASONABLE PRECAUTIONS to PREVENT PARTICULATE MATTER FROM BECOMING AIRBORNE. Such reasonable precautions may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Open equipment for conveying or transporting materials likely to create OBJECTIONABLE AIR POLLUTION when airborne shall be covered or treated in an equally effective manner at all times when in motion."


Why not place the air monitors at the source of the pollution?

The monitors will be located approximately one mile away from the dumpers, which are the suspected source of most of the fugitive coal dust coming from Norfolk Southern. And data from these monitors will only be collected on every sixth day. Why? Coal dust is obviously pouring out of the dumpers. So why not place the monitors at the dumpers, at the source of the airborne pollution, rather than at a great distance from them (or any distance at all) and subject to the vagaries of the winds? The point, according to the wording of the regulation, is to "prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne," not to keep that matter from traveling one mile or any other arbitrary distance. So what is the point of doing the monitoring at a long distance from the known spot where the matter is becoming airborne?

Just as VDOT (the Virginia Department of Transportation) places cameras above some roads and allows the public to see traffic on them real-time 24-7, why shouldn't the DEQ aim a camera at Norfolk Southern's dumpers to allow the public to see the polluting whenever it's happening?


Swipe Tests

Why not swipe tests?

A swipe test is simply rubbing dust off a surface and seeing what you have. It is basically what residents of the affected neighborhoods do every time they clean the coal dust off their window sills, porches, lawn furniture, etc. It is what the Sierra Club did when it collected samples of the dust and had them lab analyzed — and found them to contain significant amounts of coal.

Here's a crude wihdow-cleaning day swipe from a single window pane in West Ghent:

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

The DEQ refuses to do swipe tests!

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality insists on relying only on air monitoring tests. It refuses to do swipe tests of any kind. Two reasons were given for this by Maria Nold, the DEQ's local director: There are no "standards" for swipe tests, plus any coal dust collected could be "legacy dust," coal dust from the past, maybe still lying around since the nineteenth centur, when coal began being hauled through the area.

In other words, the DEQ is perfectly willing to rely solely on Norfolk Southern's own air monitoring data and decide from that that the coal dust in the air is not a problem, even as lots of coal dust continues to "magically" appear on our doorsteps, window sills, yard furniture, cars, etc., etc. Yet the DEQ will not sample that dust. Maybe the DEQ needs to forget about its obsession with Norfolk Southern's questionable air sampling — Norfolk Southern that has gotten its local coal loading facilities exempted from the federal Clean Air Act and has taken advantage of that exemption to keep polluting the air for the past fifty years! Maybe the DEQ should be more concerned about the citizens whose properties that coal dust is appearing at. Maybe the DEQ should take its samples from those properties. After all, is the whole point of the DEQ to serve and protect the citizenry, or is it to convenience big, wealthy corporations like Norfolk Southern.

1) What kind of "standards" does the DEQ need? Simply lay out a flat sheet of clean glass. Check it a month or two or three later. See how much coal dust has collected on it. If that glass is anything like the window panes of West Ghent, there will be a bunch of coal dust. But the DEQ apparently has no standard for what constitutes "a bunch."

2) If the collecting surface is clean at the beginning, then any dust that accumulates on it will have to have been airborne dust — presumably, again, from Norfolk Southern's proven coal dust emitting facilities. Take another look:





Why waste time proving what does not even need to be proved?

The regulation speaks of keeping "particulate matter from becoming airborne" and "material likely to create objectionable air pollution when airborne." It does not say anything about the particulates or material having to be a health hazard or otherwise harmful. So why does the DEQ have to do a study now to determine if the coal dust from Norfolk Southern is a health hazard? If common sense isn't enough to label something objectionable, why not poll the residents of the neighborhoods, the people who the dust is raining down on? Why not ask them if coal dust is objectionable?


What is so reasonable about something that does not work?

And as for "reasonable precautions," even if the water spray system that Norfolk Southern uses to keep the dust down on its dumpers is considered to be the industry standard, if that system does not work, how can it be considered reasonable. Whether the system is ineffective, possibly because it is not robust enough to handle "dustier" coals, or whether it is malfunctioning because Norfolk Southern does not utilize or maintain it properly, it is an unreasonable precaution, because it does not work.


So what gives, DEQ?

Read the DEQ's mission statement again.


File an online coal dust complaint with the DEQ here:

VA Department of Environmental Quality Online Complaint Form

(It only takes five minutes to fill out.)

And don't be surprised if you do not receive an email confirmation of your complaint, a phone call about it , or any kind of response whatsoever.









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