Politics Blog

Followup to wind study: Coal terminal has own air-pollution report online

I found Gateway Pacific Terminal’s own study on air quality at the Cherry Point site where the coal port would be built.

That was the one missing piece from the blog post yesterday, Tuesday, March 3, discussing a recent study by Cliff Mass and an undergraduate student at the University of Washington about the winds at Cherry Point, and a related front-page article in the March Whatcom Watch about how much coal dust might be stirred up by these winds.

I gave it only a cursory look, but the report, by subconsultant ENVIRON International Corporation of Lynnwood, does not provide current data on wind speeds, etc. from a weather station the firm has installed where the to-be-exported coal piles would sit, as much as 3 million tons worth.

What it does provide is a modeling study, or a computer simulation, of what pollution would look like on the site in 2019, when presumably the port would be at full capacity, shipping up to 48 million metric tons of coal a year. Built into the model are assumptions about winds and other factors.

I leave it to readers to peruse the report for themselves. I pull out a couple highlights:

Regarding coal-dust pollution (pp. 44-46):

Because the ambient air quality standards are intended to protect human health and welfare with a margin of safety, (the) results suggest that airborne particulate matter deposition into the water from emission sources at the Terminal would not result in significant impacts. And again, there are no applicable standards governing particulate matter deposition into the water.

... The potential for significant environmental impacts from particle deposition onto land or into water would be minimal and unlikely to result in significant environmental impacts.

Regarding coal blowing off moving trains (pp. 51-54):

Recent near-track air-sampling studies ... indicate fugitive emissions from railcar transport are typically minimal.

Regarding diesel pollution from locomotives (p. 49):

The model predicts small particles from diesel exhaust (diesel particulate matter, or DPM) to exceed a federal Acceptable Source Impact Level (ASIL) by 10 times.

As shown in Figure 11, projected annual average concentrations of DPM associated with the proposed Terminal facility operation in 2019 with full capacity operation exceed the ASIL throughout the modeling domain. Most of the modeling area ... is in the range of 10 times higher than the ASIL.

Here’s the report’s description of how to interpret the ASIL screening tool:

The ASIL is a screening-level concentration suggesting a "negligible" potential risk of increasing the incidence of cancer by one in a population of 1 million people with a constant 70-year exposure to the screening-level concentration (Ecology 2008). The ASIL does not include any consideration of the actual relative dose of inhaled particulate matter based on such things as lung capacity, rates of respiration (e.g., for an adult versus a child), or varying amounts of time of actual exposure. The ASIL is simply a screening tool, and should not be taken to represent a definitive indication of risk.

The report was on a page that includes a library of consultant reports submitted so far in the development of the environmental impact statement for Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Here’s how to find it.

Go to http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov. Click on “ EIS library” on the “Resources” tab. Then click on “ Studies provided by Applicants,” which is also found by scrolling down the page.