Risks of releasing coal and coal dust into the environment during transport

Petition: 370

Issue(s): Compliance and enforcement, fisheries, human/environmental health, toxic substances, transport, water

Petitioner(s): Canadian organization

Petitioner Location(s): Vancouver, British Columbia

Date Received: 27 January 2015

Status: Completed—Response(s) to petition received

Summary: This petition expresses concern over the environmental impacts of increased shipments of coal by rail over fish-bearing streams and increased coal handling near marine waters, particularly in British Columbia (BC). The petition follows up on previous inquiries made to federal ministers of the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, and Transport on this topic.

According to the petition, BC ports in Metro Vancouver and Prince Rupert receive rail shipments of metallurgical coal from BC, and thermal coal from British Columbia, Alberta, and the United States. The existing and approved coal export capacity in the province has nearly doubled in the past four years, to approximately 84 million tonnes per year. The petition asserts that with the increase in the handling and transport of coal along the BC coast and the corresponding increase in rail and marine transport, the likelihood of coal and coal dust being released into the environment, both from routine operations and larger-scale accidents, is increasing. The petition cites two recent accidents in the Vancouver area. In one of the accidents coal spilled into the marine environment from a barge, and in another a train derailed spilling coal into a fish-bearing stream. The petition provides additional examples of the release of coal and coal dust into the environment during routine operations.

In this context, the petition asserts that the environmental risks associated with coal are complex and difficult to predict because the different types of coal vary greatly in their makeup. However, the petition notes that coal includes a mixture of compounds, many of which are known to be toxic. Some known toxic effects of coal and coal dust, including their effects on fish, are provided in the petition, along with knowledge gaps about these effects in the marine environment.

The petition requests information on steps taken by the federal government to monitor and control the release of coal and coal dust into the environment; to evaluate physical and chemical impacts when coal is released into the environment; and to enforce the Fisheries Act when coal is released into water frequented by fish. The petition also asks for an explanation of statements made in previous correspondence by federal ministers that “coal is generally not considered deleterious” and for the information used to make this determination. It asks the ministers to clarify why the federal government does not regulate the transportation of coal products or classify coal as a dangerous good under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations. The petition requests information on the risks and impacts posed by coal entering fish-bearing waters. The petition also asks if the federal government has reviewed external studies or consulted experts regarding the environmental impacts of coal spills.

Federal departments responsible for reply: Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada