Three ports agree to major cut in toxic soot

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 – 12:00 AM

By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times environment reporter

Puget Sound ports are moving to cut air and water pollution in two initiatives announced Tuesday, both of which were hailed by traditional critics as important shifts in industry policy.

The ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C., announced a collective plan under which by 2010 they will cut toxic soot by 70 percent for ships at docks and 30 percent for the equipment on shore that hauls the cargo.

At the same time, the cruise-ship industry, the Port of Seattle and the state said they have reached a deal to ban wastewater dumping in a federal marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean off the Olympic Peninsula.

Together, they are signs that “we’re experiencing a sea change in the attitude of the Port of Seattle,” said Fred Felleman, an environmental activist who is frequently critical of the Port.

The air-pollution initiative in particular promises to improve air quality and reduce a significant source of cancer-causing pollution in the region.

Tiny particles in diesel exhaust are thought to cause cancer, exacerbate asthma and shorten lives. And neighborhoods around major Washington ports are toxic-air hotspots because of the massive engines burning dirty fuel onboard freighters, as well as in the trains, trucks and heavy equipment that haul the cargo.

Freighters docked at ports account for roughly 3 percent of diesel-soot emissions throughout the Puget Sound region, according to a study issued last month. Cargo-handling equipment added another 2 percent. The soot’s impacts are mostly in adjacent neighborhoods.

Overall, the plan is to accommodate expected increases in port shipping while protecting air quality, said Dennis McLerran, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which helped craft the plan.

“This is an attempt to develop a strategy for sustainable growth at the ports,” he said.

While the overall goals are being proposed, the ports haven’t worked out exactly how they will be achieved, Port of Seattle spokesman Mick Schultz said.

But the proposal also will address other engines associated with ports, such as trains and trucks, McLerran said. And it will contain long-term goals stretching beyond 2010. The plan is still a draft, which will be released later for public comment and for comments from industries that would be affected, he said.

One likely approach for cutting emissions will be the use of cleaner-burning fuels. One major shipping line that calls in Seattle, APL, announced in March that it would use cleaner fuel in its auxiliary engines, which are kept running when a ship is docked.

Because few details are available, it’s too soon to say how it might affect the industry, or whether it’s even a good approach, said Jordan Royer, of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents major shipping companies.

In the other issue announced Tuesday by the Port of Seattle, the change in rules governing wastewater on cruise ships will make little real difference in practice.

The agreement, written into a memorandum among the state, the industry and the Port, states cruise ships won’t discharge wastewater into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

But even without the deal, the ships have avoided flushing wastewater into the sanctuary, which comprises 3,310 square miles of water off the Washington coast, said Erik Elvejord, spokesman for the cruise company Holland America Line.

Still, Felleman, a consultant for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, had sought the ban on wastewater dumping just in case. A single cruise ship can process 44,000 gallons of wastewater per day, according to Holland America.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or

~ by fredfelleman on May 16, 2007.

One Response to “Three ports agree to major cut in toxic soot”

  1. Waste watering dumping. How sad. Thanks for educating me on what’s happening there. Hope it stops now.

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