As the Northwest considers proposals to build ship terminals to export more U.S. coal to Asia, a University of Washington Bothell team took an unusual route to measuring the air-quality hazard from trains carrying coal to the coast. Unable to fund the project through traditional sources, they went online and found 271 people who were willing to make an average donation of $75 to have experts answer the question.
With that support Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric science professor at UW Bothell, and four undergraduate students from the Seattle and Bothell campuses spent recent months sampling the air near the tracks that go to the proposed West Coast export terminals.
Jaffe will present first results from the study in a public talk at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4 at UW Bothell. The results measure the amount of small- and medium-sized particles released by different types of trains in Seattle and in the Columbia River Gorge. He will give a second, more technical presentation of the results at the UW Seattle campus Friday, Nov. 22 at 3:30 p.m. in Johnson Hall 75.
The project began in April when Jaffe, frustrated by the lack of funding through traditional channels, put his research proposal on the crowd-funding website Microryza, launched in 2012 by two UW graduates as a kind of Kickstarter dedicated to science research.
“There’s been a lot of questions and controversy about whether coal trains leak coal dust into the air,” Jaffe said. “I thought there were important scientific questions that needed to be answered.”
With help from a column in the Seattle Times and a blog mention from Cliff Mass, UW professor of atmospheric sciences, the project surpassed its funding goal, raising just over $20,500 in a week and a half. Jaffe used the extra money to add a second sampling site.