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Seward Residents Pleased That Court Decides to Move Forward With Case Over Coal Storage Facility’s Pollution Problems

Dust problems from coal storage facility continue, Court proceeds with review of alleged violations.

Seward, Alaska: On January 10, 2011, Federal District Court Judge Timothy Burgess allowed a case to proceed that alleges various discharges of coal and coal dust to Resurrection Bay from the Alaska Railroad and Aurora Energy Services’ Seward Coal Loading Facility.

Complaints were raised because without proper containment equipment at the facility, coal debris falls into Resurrection Bay from a conveyor system used to load coal onto ships for export to Asia and Chile. Coal dust also blows off the facility’s two massive coal stockpiles into the Bay, covering charter boats, other vessels and nearby neighborhoods with hazardous dust and debris.  These coal issues have been a nuisance and health risk to the Seward community for years. The Court threw out objections raised by the Alaska Railroad and Aurora Energy Services that the case should be dismissed.

“The coal dust is a public health concern,” said Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “The dust can harm the health of community residents and visitors. Inhalation of coal dust can permanently damage lung tissue, and children, people with chronic illnesses, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.”

“On December 10, 2010, Seward was again covered in coal dust,” said Russ Maddox. “Hopefully this action will lead to the elimination of this chronic and cumulative risk to public health and our environment once and for all. Our community should not be expected to continue to endure breathing coal dust to save the facility operators the expense of containing and disposing of it properly.”

“We are pleased that the Court will allow the case to move forward and address the pollution problems at the coal facility in Seward. The facility is unable to contain the coal dust and keep coal from going into Resurrection Bay, which violates the law and is an ongoing nuisance and health issue,” said Brian Litmans, a staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska

Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. exports from Alaska were up again in 2010, with the majority of coal heading to markets in Asia and Chile. “Usibelli Coal Mine has been shipping more of Alaska’s coal overseas, and has proposed a new coal strip mine in the Matanuska Valley,” said Emily Fehrenbacher, a representative for the Sierra Club Alaska. “As more of Alaska’s coal is shipped overseas, measures need to be taken to keep our air and water free from dirty coal dust.”

“Putting Seward's residents at risk from coal in our air and water is unacceptable,” Miller noted. “Especially when simple, cost-effective measures could be put in place to prevent the problem.”

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