No Coal Export

County study confirms adverse health impacts of Longview coal export terminal

Marcela Gara News

December 20, 2017


Regna Merritt, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Co-Director, Power Past Coal, 971.235.7643

Caleb Heeringa, Deputy Press Secretary, Beyond Coal  425.890.9744
Stephen Chandler, Longview-based Doctor, 503.539.6524

County study confirms adverse health impacts of Longview coal export terminal
But narrow scope ignores regional impact of building largest coal export terminal in North America

KELSO, WASHINGTON – Cowlitz County officials released a draft Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on Thursday that reaffirms many of the serious adverse public health impacts of the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview, Washington.

The significance of the draft HIA is limited due to the severely constrained geographic scope of the study area, and the fact that most major permits for Millennium’s proposed project have already been denied.

The HIA stemmed from demands during the state’s environmental review from thousands of medical professionals and public health advocates for a more extensive review of the health impacts of the project. Many cities along the rail route, which runs on both sides of the scenic Columbia River Gorge, desired more information on potential threats to human health and safety, including delayed emergency response due to increased rail traffic.

The study was ultimately left in the hands of Cowlitz County, which has intervened in lawsuits on behalf of the project’s backers. The County chose early on to drastically limit the study’s scope to areas in Cowlitz County along the track and near the proposed terminal. Later the County accepted Millennium’s paid consultants to initiate the final project. Nonetheless, the draft HIA underscores the findings of the state’s more thorough review, including negative impacts to low income and minority populations near the project area. Analysis and/or impacts include:

  • Increased cancer rates in communities near the rail line.
  • Significant coal dust and diesel particulate matter (DPM) exposures that can lead to death, hospitalization from heart and lung disease, asthma attacks, pneumonia, decline in lung function, asthma in children, plus growing evidence of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, neurological and cognitive impairment, and pre-term and low-birth weight babies.(p.9)
  • Higher noise exposure in low incomeareas in Cowlitz County. Noise is associated with higher rates of high blood pressure, heart attack and heart disease. Cowlitz County and the neighborhoods that would be most impacted by increased noise already experience higher than average rates of these diseases and that increased noise will contribute to further increase in these rates(p. 23)
  • A single train could delay traffic by 9 minutes at at-grade crossings. There will be 16 train trips each day at full operation. This could decrease accessibilityof public services and increase wait times for emergency vehicles. (p.21)
  • Cowlitz County consistently ranks near the bottom of Washington counties in health indicators (p. 13)
  • Cowlitz County and affected neighborhoods would be at even greater risk of health effects than other parts of Washington.(p. 15)
  • Tribes have the right to fish and harvest seafood. Some people eating shellfish could be exposed to potentially toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons due to this project (p. 25)
  • Review of surfactants (chemicals added to the top of open train cars in an attempt to limit dust) was limited because some ingredients are proprietary or were not sufficiently identified to be reviewed independently for potential health impacts. (p. 26)
  • 44 million metric tons of coal yields about 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide once it is used. This is roughly on par with Washington State’s current total emissions in one year. (p.20)
  • Changes in Washington’s climate in the near and midterm future will likely increase hazards to human health and increase health disparities. Without preventative and protective measures, this will worsen a variety of health outcomes.

Health professionals issued the following statements:

“Toxic diesel emissions, coal dust, and delayed emergency response times threaten all of us, but especially young children, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Low income communities nearest the tracks and the terminal would be hit hardest. As a doctor, I took a vow that I would protect the health of my patients and my community. To do so, we must prevent the construction of this dangerous coal export terminal.” – Dr. Stephen Chandler, a oncologist/hematologist in Longview, WA

“Coal is so toxic to our climate and our health that it should be left sequestered in the ground. To promote coal in the 21st century is not just irresponsible; I believe it is immoral.” – Dr. Andy Harris, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

“Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility represents over 800 health care professionals who strongly believe that the Millennium coal terminal project should not be constructed due to significant human health concerns.  Though its role is declining, coal emissions still represented 1/4 of US greenhouse gases in 2012.  Coal pollutants affect all major body organ systems and contribute to 4 of the 5 leading causes of death in America, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease.”  – Dr. Michael Soman


If this project were approved, 1.3-mile-long trains would move 44 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin and the Uinta Basin to Longview, WA each year. Sixteen uncovered coal trains would move in and out of Longview each day. Coal would be stored on the banks of the Columbia River in uncovered piles 8 stories high and 40 football fields wide.

Underscoring threats to human health and safety, the Washington Department of Ecology denied a key water quality permit in October. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources denied two permits this year. Two more permits were denied in November by the Shorelines Hearing Examiner, who cited multiple unavoidable impacts to public health, safety and tribal fishing resources that cannot be mitigated.

Unavoidable, significant, adverse impacts that can’t be reasonably mitigated and were  identified in state and local permit denials include: increased cancer rates, increased noise and traffic, delayed emergency response times, disproportionate impacts to minority and low income communities, increased risk to local and statewide rail capacity, increased risk of train accidents, increased risk to tribal fishing rights, increased risk of significant vessel incidents (fires, explosions, collisions, etc.), and increased climate pollution.


Power Past Coal is an ever-growing alliance of health, environmental, clean-energy, faith and community groups and businesses working to stop coal export off the West Coast. @powerpastcoal