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State study finds planned Wash. coal terminal would create health risks

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State study finds planned Wash. coal terminal would create health risks

A Washington county and state agency found that increased train traffic resulting from a planned coal export terminal would increase the risk of cancer.

The Washington Department of Health and Cowlitz County on Dec. 20 submitted their 62-page draft health impact assessment for the Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview for review by the coal port project's steering committee.

Some of the major findings include adverse health impacts from coal dust and diesel particulate matter.

"At the highest exposures there is a 50 per million increase in cancer risk, but very few people will be exposed to this level," the report said. "A larger portion of the community will be exposed to levels of diesel particulate matter that will increase risk by 30 or 10 cancers per million."

Regna Merritt, director of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility's Healthy Climate Program and co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition, told S&P Global Market Intelligence that the report confirms there are unacceptable negative impacts associated with the planned coal terminal.

"These pollutants affect each and every body system and they contribute to four of the five leading causes of death in America, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease," Merritt said. "These are terrible impacts that can be avoided if we prevent the building of this terminal."

She said the report affirms some of the findings of the final environmental impact statement and adds to the numerous challenges the terminal faces, although a health assessment is not required by law and does not play a role in the decision to issue permits for a development project. The terminal has been denied several permits but is appealing those decisions in court.

Millennium Bulk President and CEO Bill Chapman said in a statement that the terminal developers had not yet read the draft study and would reserve comment about the opinions expressed within.

"It is important for people to know Millennium has carefully designed our terminal to protect air and water quality and fisheries, and that these results were confirmed by prior agency reviews," he said. "The final EIS prepared by the state and the county found that the project meets all environmental standards, which are set by agencies for the very purpose to protect health and fisheries. Millennium is committed to building our bulk export terminal the right way."

As other terminal projects have been sidelined and existing port capacity has been maximized, both anti-coal and pro-coal efforts have become increasingly focused on Millennium Bulk.

Cowlitz County's website said public comment on the draft health impact assessment will be accepted through Jan. 5, 2018.