Monday, October 31, 2011

Deception Pass


In the Puget Sound area, diesel particulate matter (DPM) accounts for most of the potential cancer risk from all air toxics.10  Puget Sound Clean Air Agency

I was participating in another Cherry Point coal terminal debate the other day and my opponent was taking me to task over my assertions (backed up by 170 doctors in Whatcom and Skagit Counties) about the “alleged” danger of diesel particulates.  Actually, that is not accurate--what he was really trying to do was bury my information under other information so that what I presented seemed inconsequential.  And while this was going on, all I could think about was Deception Pass.


Deception Pass got its name because Joseph Whidbey thought that Whidbey Island was a peninsula rather than an island.  In short, Joseph was “deceived” by this seemingly insignificant stretch of water.  The mass of land and vegetation clouded his perception and he basically could not see the seas for the trees.  Research and investigation, however, yielded another all together different answer.

The “diesel particulate” deception starts with the practitioner completing an accounting of all sources of particulates in Washington.  Wood smoke, road dust, agriculture and stationary industry emit by far the most particulates.  Diesel particulates from semis, trains, and ships combined are less than five percent of the total particulates.  At only five percent of the total particulate load, how can diesel particulates possibly be much of a problem? 

My only response on this is: Go back to the top of this piece and look at the rather declarative statement from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and then visit the similar statement by the Washington Department of Ecology.  Also, compare the three pie charts contained on page 3 of the PSCAA publication and realize that the core differences between the three areas profiled are their relative distances from or the size of their ports.  If the top quote is true and diesel particulates are on the rare side, the inescapable conclusion is that they are different—far more risky—than the other types of particulates.  This is exactly why NRDC and other are trying to get diesel particulate emissions from railroad yards declared hazardous wastes. 

Think about the above and now watch this video about the mysterious health impacts observed near the Port of Seattle.  How does this make you feel about being told not to worry about the diesel particulates because there is much more wood smoke?  How does this make you feel about the public relations firm that creates arguments like this and the lobbying group that added the diesel particulate deception to the talking points of the Cherry Point coal port proponents? 

The Deception Pass story is a charming one.  It is one of many regional aspects that make this region so desirable.  The diesel particulate deception is not charming at all and we cannot let this deception pass.  

Bob Ferris, Executive Director
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

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