Maritime and government coalition seeks cuts in air pollution

The Port of Seattle has joined other area ports, governmental agencies, the ferry system, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, cruise lines and the American Lung Association to form the Puget Sound Maritime Air Forum.

The forum's goals are to take an inventory of air-pollution sources and to develop ways to reduce them as much as possible - a goal that will include Terminal 91 when the cruise-ship terminal is relocated there in 2009.

The forum is doing something "really unique and unprecedented and voluntary," said Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's David Kircher at a media briefing last week.

"Diesel emissions are a real concern for us," he stressed. That's significant because diesel engines are used by the Port of Seattle, Washington State Ferries, cargo vessels, container-hauling trucks, the railroad and cruise ships.

The Port of Seattle is seeing a spurt of growth, and the number of containers shipped into Seattle is expected to double, Kircher noted. But concern for air quality has not kept pace with a push for economic growth, he said.

"What we're trying to do is avoid the situation that happened in southern California," Kircher said of high levels of air pollution generated by port activities.

Janis Hastings, from the Environmental Protection Agency, had praise for the comprehensive efforts, which will also track greenhouse gases. "Through the forum, you are all leading the effort for cleaner air," she said. "You're also setting a national example."

The pollution inventory will not only identify sources but also register when the most emissions are created, Hastings added. "So we will be able to make wiser choices."

Air pollution also has growing health implications, according to Dr. Gregg Redding, a Children's Hospital pulmonary specialist and chair of the American Lung Association in Washington state.

There are multiple studies linking poor air quality to asthma, he said of one example. "I think the important thing to acknowledge today is the voluntary efforts," he said of the forum partners.

How much of a health hazard diesel emissions pose is open to debate. Speakers at the media briefing sent mixed signals about whether diesel pollution is carcinogenic.

Kircher, when asked about the discrepancy, said California agencies say it's likely, while the EPA doesn't list diesel emissions as a cause of cancer. But there is a great deal of support for reducing the pollution because of the belief they can cause health problems, he added.

However, steps have already been taken to reduce diesel emissions. Mike Anderson, executive director of Washington State Ferries (WSF), said the ships already burn low-sulfur diesel, which has reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide by 90 percent and particulates by 30 percent annually.

Engines and generators have also been upgraded, but an attempt to use ultra-low-sulfur diesel came up short because fuel filters became clogged, he said. "We believe we're strong stewards of air quality."

Jonathan Olds from the ferry system acknowledged that the engines were running on a ferry to prevent the ship from drifting away from the dock at one point during the media tour.

The practice is a major source of emissions, he said mentioning that ships on the Edmonds-Kingston route spend 46 percent of their time running engines to keep the ships against the docks. The ferry system is exploring the use of "positive restraints" as an alternative, Olds added.

Weight on ferries has also been reduced by keeping only enough fuel in the tanks to make the runs, and 89 percent of the ferries are hooked up to shore power when they're out of service for the night, he said.

Other efforts by the ferry system to cut fuel consumption include fuel-monitoring equipment, optimizing routes and using heat-recovery systems to cut down on the use of boilers to heat the ferries, according to Carl Allen from the WSF.

The Port of Seattle has also taken steps to reduce air pollution at its container-handling operations, said Stephanie Jones, environmental manager for the port. Semi-trucks picking up containers are equipped with radio-frequency tags, and the main entrances to the four container terminals are equipped with optical scanners to keep the trucks moving instead of idling in place, she said of two examples.

Biodiesel or low-sulfur fuel is also used by all port equipment, except the cranes, which are electric, Jones said. And many cruise ships moored at Terminal 30 hook up to shore power rather than running generators, she said.

The same approach is planned at T-91 when the cruise lines relocate there, and two-thirds of the cruise ships that docked in Seattle last year used ship-to-shore power while in port, said Port spokesman Mick Shultz.

Tina Stotz, from the Holland America cruise line, said the company's ships already use low-sulfur fuel, as do all Northwest Cruise Ship Association boats plying the waters of the Puget Sound and beyond.

But the industry is also experimenting with a system that uses seawater to scrub particulates out of diesel-engine exhaust, she said. The particulates are recovered for disposal on land, Stotz added.

And among other steps, Burlington Northern Santa Fe is working with manufacturers to develop locomotive with hybrid engines, Jones said.

Environmental factors aside, there's another benefit to the air-forum project. "We think the work is worth doing because of the economic impact on the maritime sector," she said of savings in fuel costs.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]