Daily Press (Sunday)

Pastor’s plea to combat coal dust

- By Lathaniel Kirts Lathaniel Kirts is senior pastor at Pray First Mission Ministries in Newport News’ Southeast Community.

Residents have long complained about the nuisance, cost and inconvenie­nce of constantly cleaning, replacing air filters and keeping windows closed. Studies show that coal dust is linked to respirator­y health problems such as asthma, bronchitis and heart disease. In our Southeast Community, more than twice as many residents suffer from asthma compared to Newport News and Virginia averages.

Worse yet, modest requests to companies such as Norfolk Southern to cover their coal-carrying train cars fall on deaf ears, adding another layer of burden to already stressed, predominan­tly Black communitie­s in Newport News and Norfolk. These communitie­s have borne the brunt of systemic and racist neglect, grappling with high eviction rates, limited resources for wellness and education, and other environmen­tal issues.

My connection to these communitie­s runs deep. While Newport News is where I live, work and worship, Norfolk is where I was raised, and where my childhood friends now raise their own children. My passion for both cities is grounded in my advocacy for the historical­ly disenfranc­hised communitie­s within them.

For years, I’ve had the honor of serving as senior pastor at Pray First Mission Ministries, right here in Newport News’ Southeast Community. Our church stands just a stone’s throw from the railroad tracks, and it’s where we gather to find solace and strength. But today, I’m not just a pastor; I’m also a concerned citizen of this city, deeply troubled by a problem that’s hitting too close to home — coal dust.

You see, our church and our homes are under siege from this stubborn intruder. It rides in on the trains that pass by daily, settling on our church grounds, our homes and even the playground­s where our kids should play without worry. Our children breathe in this unwelcome visitor’s toxic particles as they chase their dreams and friends, and it’s threatenin­g not only their health but also the sanctuary we’ve built with love and faith.

The struggle against coal dust isn’t just about our health; it’s a battle for our community’s soul. We’re no strangers to challenges, having fought for justice on various fronts, from criminal justice to education and housing. Now, we face another injustice — the environmen­tal hazard of coal dust.

As a pastor, I’ve stood beside you in the fight for a better community. Today, I urge you to stand with me once more, as we call for accountabi­lity from those

responsibl­e for this coal dust problem. Together, we can make a change.

So, where do we go from here? The solution is clear: We must take action to alleviate the coal dust problem that plagues our communitie­s. We have several paths forward:

Mandate Wind Fences. We can compel coal terminals to build wind fences, which have the potential to reduce coal dust emissions to the surroundin­g community by a significan­t 70-80%.

Constructi­ng domes to fully cover coal piles and equipment is a comprehens­ive solution. This approach effectivel­y reduces coal dust

Build Domes.

emissions and provides an effective means of dust mitigation.

Regulatory-Grade Air Monitors.

We can urge the state to install regulatory-grade air monitors that measure air quality accurately, helping us keep coal dust emissions in check.

Cover Coal Cars. CSX and Norfolk Southern should be encouraged to cover their coal cars, preventing further harm to our communitie­s.

The battle against coal dust is far from over, but with the continued commitment of our neighbors, we can mitigate the health risks it poses. If you share our passion for fighting environmen­tal injustice, consider joining hands with local community groups such as New Virginia Majority, Sierra Club and Southeast CARE Coalition. If you’ve been impacted by coal dust, please share your story with us by contacting my collaborat­ors at UVA’s Repair Lab, where we are collecting testimonia­ls for a national podcast.

Let us remember that solving this problem will require time, dedication and cooperatio­n. It’s a community effort, and I invite you to become part of the solution. Together, we can clear the air and create a brighter, healthier future for Newport News and Norfolk.

 ?? STAFF FILE ?? Kinder Morgan Bulk Terminals coal terminal in Newport News in 2019.
STAFF FILE Kinder Morgan Bulk Terminals coal terminal in Newport News in 2019.

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