Doctors, Public Health Officials Call for Health Impact Assessment on Longview Terminal

More than 160,000 public comments poured in Monday, the close of public comments for the project
The Lund Report
A group of 160 Oregon and Washington physicians is asking permitting agencies -- including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and local governments in Oregon and Washington -- to perform a comprehensive health impact assessment before allowing shipments of coal out of the Longview Terminal, on the grounds that the known health effects of proposed shipments would be dire, and the unknown effects aren't worth the risk.
 
At a press conference earlier this week, Dr. Andy Harris, who serves on the organization's advisory council, said more than 3,000 public comments from health professionals and public health advocates had been submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers in response to a request for comment on the Millennium Coal export proposal in Longview -- most explicitly requesting a health impact assessment, which would review existing literature on coal dust, diesel exhaust and other impacts of increased rail traffic through the whole region. 
 
"What we don't know is the extent of the problem," Harris said. "How many children, elderly and immunosuppressed persons will have adverse health effects from shipping coal through our communities?" In addition to respiratory and neurological effects from coal dust and diesel exhaust, Harris said the effects of noise pollution and increased rail traffic are likely to have a major impact on the health of people living in communities near rail corridors, even if the railroad cars are covered. 
 
Yakama Nation spokesperson Kris Proszek also spoke at the press conference, saying the coal shipment proposal -- which would send 16 trains more than a mile long through communities in the Northwest -- violates the tribe's treaty rights, which include the right to take fish from all usual and accustomed places, and to live free of nuisances. Proszek said the Yakama nation also supports the healthcare communities call for a regional, comprehensive health impact assessment of current and proposed coal transport and export in the Northwest. "It's important that this HIA includes a public review and comment process to ensure that all potential impacts to human health are fully identified, quantified and discussed," Proszek said.
 
Asked about alternatives to coal power, such as nuclear, Harris said Physicians for Social Responsibility continues to oppose investment in nuclear power, and it favors increased investment in other alternatives to fossil fuels, such as wind, solar and geothermal power. He also noted that about 36 percent of Oregon’s electricity comes from coal -- down from 55 percent several years ago.Exporting coal to Asia exports the problem: “It’s a little like when cigarette smoking became less socially acceptable, and we started selling more cigarettes in Asia.”
 
Oregon PSR campaign director Regna Merritt said the organization hopes the permitting agencies will engage local health departments in gathering data on the issue. Earlier this year, the Multnomah County Health Department released a health impact assessment on the likely effects of increased coal shipments through Multnomah County, but as Merritt noted, the Oregon Health Authority has not yet engaged in a health impact assessment on the effects of coal shipments statewide.
 
Monday marked the end of the public comment period for the Longview project, one of three coal shipment proposals still on the table in the Northwest. The Washington Department of Ecology received 195,000 comments about the Longview proposal.
 
Proszek said she was hopeful the Army Corps of Engineers would uphold its responsibility to tribes affected by the terminal, and to public health. 
 
“Two years ago, there were six proposals. Now there are three,” Harris said. 
 
Christen can be reached at christen@thelundreport.org.
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