Local maritime activity pumps almost 2 million tons of greenhouse gases into air

Tuesday, April 10, 2007By KRISTEN MILLARES BOLT

A major study of maritime air emissions in the Puget Sound region has found that maritime activities pumped more than 1.8 million gross tons of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the air during 2005.

The Puget Sound air emissions inventory measured air pollution created by oceangoing vessels, cargo handling equipment, trucks, rail and harbor craft such as ferries over the one-year period.While inventories of maritime air emissions have been conducted in the past, none before have measured greenhouse gases.

“It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. This inventory will help us refocus our ongoing emissions reduction efforts … we want to double our cargo volumes over the next 10 to 15 years and reducing air emissions is a key part of that,” said Stephanie Jones, the Port of Seattle’s senior manager of seaport environmental programs.

The study also measured the gross tons of diesel particulate matter, fine particulate matter such as dust, dirt, soot and smoke, nitrogen and sulfur containing compounds, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide The area studied extends from the Strait of Juan de Fuca east to the Cascades, north to the Canadian border and south of Olympia.

Fine particles found in dust, dirt, soot and smoke are a concern because their small size allows them direct access to the lungs; exposure can lead to respiratory disease, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.

There are no standards for the particles found in diesel exhaust, which can be so small as to enter the bloodstream directly.

With regards to the nitrogen and sulfur containing compounds and carbon monoxide, Seattle and King County met federal emission goals, but the inventory adds to the knowledge already held in the area that air emissions are a serious problem that must be averted if parts of Tacoma hope to comply with new, stricter federal laws regarding dust, dirt, soot and smoke written by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are moving back into non-attainment because of the EPA’s new, more stringent requirements,” said David Kircher, the Manager of the Air Resources Department for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, last Thursday. “We are not out of the woods yet when it comes to attainment.”

Kircher said that Seattle, King County and Snohomish County comply with federal standards on fine particulate matter, but not with local goals set by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

“It is a regional goal, but you didn’t hear a lot about that today because it is voluntary,” Kircher said. “It is not a mandatory regulation standard.”

In 2005, maritime activities produced more than 1,444 tons of diesel particulate matter, and another 1,427 tons of fine particulate matter such as dust, dirt, soot and smoke.

The Puget Sound region is in the top 5 percent of the nation for potential cancer risk from air toxics, according a major national study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency.The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, a partner in the air emissions inventory released today, defines air toxics as “air pollutants known or suspected to cause health problems” like cancer, birth defects, lung damage, immune system damage, and nerve damage.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has identified the port and the industries that support its economic activity – conducted with diesel-fueled trucks, ships, cars, cargo handling equipment and rail – as responsible for a large part of the diesel particulate matter which accounts for 78 percent of the potential cancer risk from all air toxics in the Puget Sound area.

Living near a major port like the Port of Seattle, which handles 7.9 percent of all port cargo on the West Coast and was ranked in 2005 as the 7th largest U.S. container port by the US Department of Transportation, poses a health risk that cannot be ignored, health advocates say.

“If you think of diesel, think of asthma first and cancer second,” said Robin Evans-Agnew, the director of medical and scientific affairs for the American lung Association of Washington, a study participant.

Ten percent of the population has asthma, which comes to about 525,000 asthmatics in Washington state. Evans-Agnew said someone dies every four days of asthma in Washington state. What the study did not measure is individual communities’ exposure to the air pollution.

What should be done with all this information remains an open question. Once the final draft of the emissions inventory has been studied by all the players, it will be more than one month before some local recommendations are made at the Faster Freight Cleaner Air summit on goods movement and air quality in the Puget Sound region, to be held in Seattle on May 16.

A study released last month by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that oceangoing vessels now produce more sulfur dioxide, a major air pollutant associated with a panoply of respiratory diseases, then all of the world’s cars, trucks and buses combined.

In the Puget Sound region, oceangoing vessels produced 12,373 of the 13,211 gross tons of sulfur dioxide emitted by maritime activities in 2005.

The way to get at that pollution is to regulate the amount of sulfur allowed in fuel burned by ships, trains, trucks and cargo handling equipment. It is easier for ports to influence what they have control over: the docks, which is where the port of Seattle and its numerous private industry partners have focused their environmental programs to date.

“The proximity to people is where we should be focused, and it’s at the dock,” Jones said. “We also have the most ability to influence what happens on the dock.”

The Port of Seattle has preferred to work through voluntary measures, unlike the harsh regulations implemented by the Ports of LA/Long Beach that have resulted in lawsuits that could overturn the environmental measures supported by the communities there.

Efforts by numerous ports with the cruise lines’ participation have resulted in members of the North West CruiseShip Association’s use of low sulfur fuel while in Washington, B.C., and Alaska waters, as well as the installation of shore power at the two berth Port of Seattle Terminal 30 cruise facility, which allows cruise ships to turn off their engines and plug into shore power to reduce their emissions to nearly zero while at dock.

Both American President Lines at Terminal 5 and “K” Line at Terminal 46 have committed to burning lower sulfur fuels in their vessels’ auxiliary engines while at dock. APL estimates that will cut emissions of toxic diesel particles from APL ships while in port by 75 percent, or 3.5 tons per year. The Port of Seattle’s largest terminal operator SSA Marine switched its cargo handling equipment to a 20 percent blend of biodiesel, which SSA executive vice president Andy McLauchlan said cuts emissions across the board by 15 percent. Installing diesel oxidation catalysts at $1300 a pop on the 45 largest of SSA’s 196 cargo handling equipment lowers emissions across the board by about 20 percent.

Keeping things running smoothly and efficiently to avoid idling trucks helps, too.Still, what has been done so far is the low hanging fruit. Maritime advocates pointed out the numerous environmental programs put in place since the 2005 inventory, but the port’s environmental staff said further work must be done to accommodate a planned doubling in the number of containers passing through the port.

“While all ports have these problems, we are unique in that is 140 miles from Cape Flattery to Seattle,” said Fred Felleman, Northwest representative of the environmental group Ocean Advocates. “To the degree that that trip can be a high contributor to air emissions, the biggest challenge is getting to the ships while they are in transit.”

Ocean going vessels in transit put 11,390 gross tons of nitrogen dioxide into the air in 2005 as well as 497,000 gross tons of greenhouse gases.

A parallel study north of the Canadian border, as well as at various other West Coast ports, will complete the picture for those who are pushing for industry wide standards, rather then a patchwork of costly and area-specific measures. Ongoing work on international standards may regulate the kinds of fuels ships are allowed to burn in transit.

Kristen Millares Bolt can be reached at 206-448-8142 or kristenbolt@seattlepi.com.

© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

~ by fredfelleman on April 11, 2007.

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