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)


Coal Dust

Norfolk Southern's Most Insidious Gift to Its Own Hometown

Coal is still much in demand and burning it is the main cause of global warming, but besides all the CO2 added to the atmosphere, wherever coal is handled, there's coal dust. This is because, due to the brittle nature of coal, fine powdered coal, or coal dust, is created whenever lumps of coal grind together, as they do when piles of coal are jostled as they travel hundreds of miles in Norfolk Southern's coal cars or when many tons of coal crash down out of Norfolk Southern's monster rotary railcar dumpers.

See Norfolk Southern's own propaganda video for its dirtier-than-need-be coal loading operations:

Lamberts Point: Proven Technology for Today and Tomorrow

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quaity estimated in 2013 that Norfolk Southern allowed about 90,000 pounds of coal dust to blow off its coal loading terminal per year, but this estimate seems ridiculously low. In addition to all the dust that can be seen billowing out of its rotary dumpers, Norfolk Southern hauls its coal with 23,000 uncovered coal cars, according to the coal page on its website.

Old Dominion University researchers found that soil samples taken less than 2.2 miles from the loading docks contained up to 20% coal by weight, samples 11 miles away 3%, and 26 miles away 1%. High levels were also found in soil samples taken along the railroad tracks.

Photo below of Norfolk Southern's massive 140-foot-tall twin shiploaders, their booms raised as they wait for the next huge collier to dock. Meanwhile, fully laden uncovered coal cars await their turn to be dumped:

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Norfolk Southern's shiploaders, their booms down, loading a collier — reminiscent of the ominous imperial walkers of Star Wars fame:

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Norfolk Southern's elevated tandem twin rotary dumpers capable of dumping 8,000 tons of coal per hour. These monster, 40-foot tall dumpers flip and dump nearly 200,000 coal cars per year, with each car weighing as much as 120 tons. Of that approximately 90,000 pounds of coal dust that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality estimated blows off the Norfolk Southern loading facilities per year, most of it is believed to escape from these dumpers.


A water spray is used to keep the dust down when these dumpers are in operation, but this measure has been found to be inadequate due to the microscopic size of the airborne coal dust particles. One study determined that "fugitive dust significant enough to substantially influence ambient air quality appears concentrated in the car dumping areas" and "in order to wet the surface of fine coal particles at Pier 6, excessive amounts of water would be required." According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, much of the coal dust is simply too fine to be kept down by the spray.


See for yourself how well the water sprays work (NOT!)— and why much of that coal dust is blowing into the neighborhoods:


A spokeperson for Norfolk Southern said that the water strays were functioning properly on the day that the above video was made. Apparently Norfolk Southern considers this amount of dust escaping its dumpers to be acceptable.

MORE VIDEOS of the rotary dumpers in action


But the dumper dust may be just the tip of the coal dust polluting iceberg, See a appalling amount of coal dust that blows off of Norfolk Southern's coal trains, and this polluting is happening all the way across the state, from the coal mines of Appalachia to the Port of Norfolk. Imagine the uproar if trucks traveling the highways spewed dust like this. Yet it's perfectly okay for Norfolk Southern's coal trains to do it?







See many more dusty coal train videos on YouTube:


Read what a physicist says about coal dust and winds, how the amount of dust becoming airbone increases exponentially with wind speed:

Physicist talks about a proposed new coal laoding terminal

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Why is this stuff allowed?

Since Norfolk Southern's coal loading facilities at Lamberts Point were built before the Clean Air Act of 1970, they are considered grandfathered and therefore exempt from the regulations of that act. And ever since Norfolk Southern has refused to enclose its coal loading conveyors and rotary dumpers, the accepted modern practice for containing the dust, even though the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has repeatedly cited Norfolk Southern for failing to operate its dumpers “in a manner consistent with good air pollution control practice of minimizing emissions” — and in its own hometown!

Read Past reports cite coal dust as recurring problem (an excellent exposé by Virginian-Pilot writer Aaron Applegate and a must read)


Satellite image of Norfolk Southern's Lamberts Point Terminal

See all the loaded coal cars waiting to be dumped? What do you suppose all that black stuff lying on the ground around the long lines of coal cars is?

Zero in with the satellite


Choking on the dust or on the profits? Does Norfolk Southern's iron-horse logo need to be updated?

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Over $3.25 billion in profits, and about $10 million — the high-end estimate for containing its twin open-air rotary dumpers — is just too much? Consider that $10 million to Norfolk Southern is like the person earning $50,000 a year shelling out all of $45 — in other words, about the cost of a dinner out, plus dessert, for two. But Norfolk Southern has claimed that it would be too expensive for them to enclose the dumpers. So $10 million — less than 1/10th of 1% of its revenues or 1/3rd of 1% of its profits — is too much for Norfolk Southern to spend to prevent most of the dust from its dumpers from blowing into the neighborhoods? Maybe the multibillion dollar Norfolk Southern Corporation needs to take off its eyeshades, unfocus from its bottom line, and reevaluate its priorities.


Fixes for the Dust

Covering Coal Cars and Enclosing Dumpers

Covering Norfolk Southern's coal cars would not only stop coal dust from blowing off them, it would save fuel transport costs to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Norfolk Southern's own Rail Emission Study found that roughly one pound of coal dust per car per mile blows off in transit. So a hundred car coal train (these days coal trains average 130 cars long) disperses 100 pounds of coal dust per mile, or five tons per hundred miles, or 15 to 20 tons or more spread across Virginia for every trip between the mines and the Norfolk loading piers. Think about all those coal trains rolling across the state at all hours of the day and night — hence all the billions in revenues and profits! Yet Norfolk Southern continues to refuse to install covers on its coal cars when the cost of outfitting every single one of those cars with covers would amount to only a small fraction of its annual revenues or its profits.

As for the coal car covers streamlining the cars and decreasing the fuel costs of hauling them, in 2010 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories did wind tunnel tests and determined that a 9% fuel savings could be had from covering coal cars. Norfolk Southern admitted in 2008 that every 1% that it can save in fuel results in a $5 million annual savings, but this is for its entire fleet of locomotives, those hauling other commodities besides coal. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the savings from hauling all those heavily laden coal trains would be many, many millions per year. See Norfolk Southern on fuel efficiency.

Example of closed railcars used to haul bulk commodities other than coal, these cars belonging to CHS, a large farming and ranching cooperative. None of the cargo blows off of these cars while in transit:

Closed tank cars belonging to WCHX, a railcar leasing company. Nothing spills from these either in transit. So why does coal get a pass?

Think about what gets airborne once those 130-car average train loads get to where they're going, once those huge coal cars are actually flipped upside down in the rotary dumpers and all that coal tumbles out, then gets whisked on big conveyor belts to the gigantic loaders that dump it again, this time into the gaping holds of the huge colliers that dock at the piers. Yes, the mechanized loading of coal on an industrial scale is a sight to behold — but don't watch it from downwind. See Norfolk Southern's own spic and span-looking promo video (the rotary dumpers are 5 minutes into it, the ship loaders 7 minutes in).


Video of covered coal cars (belonging to another railroad) on the move:



Video of an enclosed rotary railcar dumper with vacuum dust collecting system in operation. Note how clean the dump is. Several companies provide such systems (for example, dust collection equipment), and other railroads use such systems:


So, why not do the right thing, Norfolk Southern? Can't afford to? Bunk!

Note the dust containment measures for a proposed new coal exporting terminal in the state ofWashington (enclosed dumpers and covered coneyors)

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Norfolk Southern, coal dust, Pier 6, Lamberts Point

Photographing the dumpers:









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