Anchorage: A coalition of Seward residents and environmental health organizations are releasing a report detailing a year’s worth of air quality data. Seward residents trained by Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), Global Community Monitor, and Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, collected air samples from multiple sites up to a mile away from the Seward Coal Loading Facility. Samples were analyzed by three independent laboratories. The analyzed samples contain unhealthy levels of pollution. The two culprits polluting the air: coal dust and carcinogenic crystalline silica–from the transportation and storage of coal. A forensic laboratory fingerprinted the dust collected by the community monitoring devices and compared it to samples of coal from near the Seward Coal Loading facility and confirmed the fingerprints matched.
The study found levels of coal dust containing crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is known to cause cancer and is present in the air around Seward which causes concern for public health, especially in children, seniors, and people who experience chronic health problems. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal. The breathable silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, thus reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Exposure to air pollution can increase asthma attacks in children which worries some parents in Seward. In addition to asthma, air pollution is linked to health issues such as pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
Dr. Paul Forman commented, “For 8 years, I practiced family medicine in Seward. Residents, including patients of mine, expressed concerns about the health effects of breathing coal dust. This research project found the air in Seward is polluted with coal dust. There are negative health effects associated with breathing any amount of coal dust, so it is important for the Seward Coal Loading Facility to do more to clean up the air.”
It is possible to keep the air in Seward cleaner. Three consultants, hired by the Alaska Railroad, recommended measures that would greatly improve the air quality and mitigate the dust problem; however, these recommendations have been ignored by the Alaska Railroad and Seward Coal Loading Facility.
The study, titled Coal Dust in Alaska: Hazards to Public Health, will be made public during a press conference on July 16, 2014.
Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) is a statewide environmental health and justice organization established in 1997. ACAT’s mission is to assure justice by advocating for environmental and community health. Everyone has the right to clean air, clean water, and toxic-free food. www.akaction.org.
Global Community Monitor, founded in 2001, trains and supports communities in the use of environmental monitoring tools to understand the impact of pollution on their health and the environment.