Strange Black Substance?

ColinC writes: After recent snowfall, I and many others have noticed a black, sootlike substance settling on the snow, cars, and dogs around town. It’s thick and hard to get off. There is a possibility that this may stem from the UVA power plant recently found to have an effect on air quality. Anyone have an insight into this mystery?

17 Responses to “Strange Black Substance?”


  • I have wondered the same thing… it’s nasty stuff, and we are doubtless breathing it as well… someone should call the state air quality board and ask what it is… whether it’s hazardous, etc.

  • We noticed it too when we were on the Corner. We were out Thursday night when it started and then Friday when it melted there was soot all over the car. Is the big stack by the railroad overpass a coal stack? The soot reminds me of when my family had a coal furnace and I would smoke the house up. After doing that a few times, Dad switched to oil.

  • Yes it’s a coal stack. They burn mass amounts of coal (that comes from the trains) to heat water, which is pumped all over the campus in the steam tunnels. It’s a massive fuel hungry system.

  • UPDATE:

    -Venable school (which is located within blocks of the plant) has sent out a letter explaining this problem to parents who doubtless wonder why their kids are so dirty. It cites the same reason. The school is in contact with officials, but it is unlikely UVA will do anything about it.

    -the Problem seems to be isolated to within a 1-2 mile radius from the plant. Within that area, the stuff is everywhere

  • Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll be sure to stay away from the University whenever there’s snow in the forecast!

  • Snow or no snow, it’s gonna be there. The snow just makes it more visible, that’s all.

  • You know, since Waldo is the institutional memory around here on the subject of past Progress reporters’ good deeds …

    I wonder if he remembers the stories Eric Swensen and … someone else … did last year about the power plant’s emissions. Maybe someone’s got copies of them? I don’t remember when they ran, but it was before the Progress overhauled its web site. Could Loper have them archived somewhere?

    The gist was that Kevin Lynch and a few other local politicians were pushing for UVa to clean up the plant or, ideally, switch away from gas. UVa said it was too expensive. The state’s dept. or environmental protection (what’s it called? I’m forgetting everything) was involved, but UVa generally isn’t big on taking orders from fellow state agencies. And then everyone backed off, and the plant is still running.

  • For those of you who didn’t see it, NBC29 ran a *story last night about the soot.

    What it amounts to is that two of the UVA stacks failed, and so they had to run the remaining stacks at much higher capacity than normal to compensate, and that generated a lot of soot.

    They claim it’s not harmful or toxic to breathe, but I figure it can’t be good for you.

    Way to go cvillenews.com for prompting other news organizations to do some footwork.

    * This page has a script that tries to close the browser window when it loses focus or you click on the browser control buttons. Fair warning.

  • Read todays (1-22) A2 story in The Daily Progress

  • They say it would cost too much, but they have plenty of cash to build a worthless parking garage in the middle of a neighborhood, have an oversized stadium, and make numerous other improvements. But they continue to be a lousy neighbor to area residents.

  • Doesn’t it bring stuff to the ground that would normally stay higher in the sky?

  • Yes, but so does rain, gusting winds, and/or fog. The point being, that stuff is spewing out from their heating system. I personally don’t think it’s good for our health whether the snow (or other climatological element) carries it down at point A or point B.

    UVA Officials are defusing the story by making gratuitous, but convenient, claims that coal particles aren’t harmful. Anyone who believes that probably believed the Officers of the Tobacco Establishment on their self-serving health claims.

  • The small quanity that we are breathing probably isn’t that bad. I have 2 great-uncles who were coal miners that now have Black Lung, now they were breathing in some coal particles. When we heated our house by coal as a child, whenever I blew my nose, the tissue was black, that’s breathing in some coal particles.

    That said, it still isn’t healthy and something should be done about it. And the City buses need to have their exhaust systems cleaned. I was standing at the bus stop and when the bus pulled out, huge clouds of black gas came out. Don’t tell me that’s better for me than the coal I can’t even see in the air until it settles.

    Clean air for everyone! (If I get 1000 people to sign a petition for clean air in Charlottesville, can I make Charlottesville a City for Clean Air?)

  • [My hand is raised for Clean Air]

    But lest one forgets, what “isn’t that bad” for one person can be difficult or even fatal for others. As anecdotal evidence, everyone has heard that smoking can cause lung cancer. Yet we all know or have heard of someone that lived well past 80 or 90, smoking a pack a day, and yet died of some other unrelated thing.

    So too, are these nauseous black particles from coal burning…

  • Do you know what kind of city bus it was? The real old ones have an exhaust system that discharges out of the side of the bus and right into peoples faces. They smoke a lot. CTS should have gotten rid of them a long time ago and replaced them with compressed natural gas buses. Public Works has trucks that run on natural gas. Instead they just wasted a lot of time and money on electric buses that never worked right even though they had been warned by the manufacturer and Virginia Power that the buses would not be suitable for conditions in Charlottesville.

    Kevin Cox

  • From your description, it was a "real old one". It was right in my face and coming from the side of the bus.

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