Coal export: A threat to our health

Marcela Gara News

By Stephen G. Chandler, MD

Editor’s note: Today’s editorial was written by Longview physician Dr. Stephen Chandler. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

A June 3 guest editorial from Bill Chapman, CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals, relies on selective, speculative data to make a convoluted argument for the climate change benefits of making Longview home to the largest coal export terminal in North America.

As part of the thorough environmental review for the terminal, Washington State ran several projections for the impact that increased American coal supply would have on prices and use of coal in Asia. As detailed in earlier reporting by the Longview Daily News, this review found that the most likely scenario was that the terminal would increase climate pollution by 3.5 million tons – the equivalent of adding nearly 750,000 cars to the road.

In the two years since those projections, the outlook for coal exports has only dimmed. The Asian countries that Chapman envisions as customers are rapidly turning away from coal for the same reasons American utilities are: cleaner energy options are cheaper and don’t include coal’s immense air and water pollution.

Even Japan, which Chapman holds as an example of a future customer, is scaling back their plans for new coal plants, concerned that it won’t be able to meet its climate goals. Seeing the writing on the wall, an Australian company recently scrapped plans an export terminal similar to Millennium Bulk Terminals’ due to declining demand from Asian countries.

But rather than speculate on what will happen on the other side of the planet, I’d like to focus on what we know this project will mean for Longview. The state’s review and the ongoing Health Impact Assessment process are clear: this massive project would lead to increased rates of respiratory diseases like asthma and cancers. Emergency vehicles and first responders would take longer to arrive to medical emergencies in our community due to the increased train traffic. The increased coal tanker traffic in the Columbia River would hurt our efforts to support our salmon — a blow to the local fishing industry and tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Our community would be asked to bear the negative consequences of this project, even though Cowlitz County already has some of the worst overall health outcomes in the state of Washington. Local and state health reports show that our rates of pediatric asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and premature death are far too high already. From cancers to asthma and strokes, this community cannot bear more of these burdens, especially the young, elderly and chronically ill.

As a practicing physician with nearly five decades of experience who lives here in Longview along with my children and grandchildren, I see the human impact of this pollution every day. The worst part of my job is having to be the person who breaks the news to a patient — that the cough they came in to diagnose is actually cancer. The patient’s next question is quite often: “How did this happen?”

While cancer doesn’t come with name tags identifying who or what specifically caused it, decades worth of science is clear. Coal trains, coal ships and coal terminals bring with them an array of cancer-causers, from diesel fumes, to particulate matter, to coal dust, which includes toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, lead, and benzene.

To executives and shareholders of this longshot coal export scheme, the 10 percent increase in cancer rates expected in the Highlands neighborhood if this project is built may seem trivial. But for those of us working in medicine in Longview, that’s more lives of our neighbors and grandparents unnecessarily cut short. And it’s more times we have to deliver bad news to distraught patients and their families.

This is not the future that Longview wants for its next generation. The empty promises of a coal industry in terminal decline will come and go, but our families are in Longview for the long haul.

View original article, here.