Alaska Community Action on Toxics has issued a new report on the hazards of coal dust in Seward. The organization is recommending further monitoring, but city officials were not advised of the report’s findings.
During February of 2012 through April of 2013, volunteers collected air samples in Seward, mostly from the Seward Boat Harbor area. The volunteers were trained by ACAT and the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, and by Global Community Monitor, an organization that conducts citizen monitoring efforts throughout the country.
They wanted to find out how much of the particulate matter in Seward’s air is coal dust, and what is other naturally occurring matter. Russ Maddox, with the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, says the dust problems in the city have been ongoing for about eight years. At a press conference announcing the release of the report [Coal Dust In Alaska: Hazards to Public Health], Maddox said the citizen collected evidence points to coal dust.
“We finally have, for the first time, real live data, that I feel is irrefutable, that, at times, over half the dust in Seward is coming from the coal facilty and is coal dust. “
The target of the tests is the Seward Coal Loading Facility, which ACAT says is responsible for the coal dust in Seward’s air. SCLF is owned and operated by Aurora Energy, a subsidiary of Usibelli Coal. The Alaska Railroad uses the facility in shipping coal out of Alaska.
According to the report released today (thursday), the coal dust, in varying degrees, does make up the majority of the of the particulate matter in Seward’s air, although not in quantities deemed to be unlawful by federal standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Pam Miller is executive director of ACAT:
“Coal really makes up the majority of dust that was captured in our air monitors. And from our report, we concluded that the coal loading facility is a major contributor to air-borne pollution in Seward. And this does present a real health hazard to people living in Seward, particularly to children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.”
Dr. Paul Foreman, who lived and worked in Seward for about seven years, said at the press conference that he has seen elevated rates of cancer in Seward. City officials in Seward were not aware of the report , nor of the teleconferenced press conference hosted by the authors of the report.
Assistant Seward city manager Ron Long says he has not seen a copy of the report, nor is he qualified to give a scientific assessment of Seward’s air quality.
Russ Maddox says that the city has turned a deaf ear to resident’s complaints about the dust since he began fighting for better air quality in 2006.
“The city has been absolutely uncooperative since day one. And, unfortunately, the city and the railroad and Aurora act as one entity here, and, with Aurora denying that there is a coal dust problem , the city, the railroad have been parroting that claim all along.”
But in 2010, the city of Seward, in response to some residents’ complaints about dust, asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct an air quality study. That study, conducted between January of 2011 and May of 2012, did not find particulate matter in excess of EPA standards.
Maddox says that the conservation groups are not attempting to shut down the SCLF, but they do want the facility to institute containment measures to keep the coal dust down. He says consultants in the past have advised SCLF to provide sprinklers on the coal stock piles and enclosed conveyors so that dust can be vacuumed up before loading. Loreli Simon, spokeswoman for Aurora Energy and Usibelli, could not be reached for comment for this story.
I’m Ellen Lockyer