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MyTurn: New Juneau dock may present a health risk

Posted: Monday, November 16, 2009

This column concerns a Nov. 11 My Turn by Jim Preston, chairman, Juneau Docks & Harbors Board, titled "Reconfiguring downtown docks."

Preston's proposal fails to mention or consider the potential impacts of cruise ship air emissions on people living in downtown Juneau and along Gastineau Channel. Big cruise ships burn large amounts of diesel and heavy grade bunker fuels to run their propulsion and auxiliary engines while in port. Cruise ship air emissions contain criteria air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants can cause long-term lung and heart problems. That is why they are regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Air emissions from cruise ships also contain heavy metals (lead, chromium, titanium, vanadium), polyaromatic and aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene and formaldehyde), which are all carcinogenic and can kill humans depending upon the level of exposure. Cruise ship air emissions also contain large amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, which are the primary greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Finally, each cruise ship has a solid waste incinerator that is used to burn on-board solid waste. While in port, cruise ships sometimes burn solid waste that contains plastic, rubber and other non-organic waste under the optimal burn temperature. Burning plastic and other synthetic chlorine-containing compounds under optimal burn temperatures releases chlorine containing compounds called dibenzo-dioxins and furans. Dioxins and furans are among the most toxic compounds in the world. This is why the solid waste incinerator in Lemon Creek was shut down several years ago, and this is why people should not burn plastic in burn barrels or camp fires. Multiple exposures to these compounds cause them to accumulate in the body and may eventually cause cancer.

People living in downtown Juneau and along Gastineau Channel may be seasonally exposed to toxins, released into the atmosphere by cruise ships, through the air they breathe. The proposal to cram another floating city in Juneau's already crowded harbor is going to exacerbate this potential health problem. Unfortunately, nobody is collecting air monitoring data that could indicate the likelihood or severity of exposure to these compounds. The cruise ship industry is the only industry in Alaska that is not required to obtain an air discharge permit from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Regulations and permits are necessary to protect public health and the environment.

Alaska's capital city deserves to be treated with more respect. I suggest that the new downtown dock be considered for something that we the residents of Juneau can enjoy for our health, such as a marine park with a public boat-haul out area (one that does not cost $250 per haul) where commercial and sports fishing interests can work and play. What do you say?



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