Study totals costs of pollution
Treating illnesses related to port pollution could cost Charleston residents $81 million per year, according to a new study commissioned by the Coastal Conservation League.
The report, produced by Massachusetts-based Abt Associates, found that a new container terminal planned at the former Navy base would account for as much as $27 million in annual medical expenses, and that the existing terminals would account for up to $54 million in health care-related costs by 2025.
It also determined that, if the Port of Charleston switched its operations to cleaner fuel, the $81 million figure would drop to $36 million.
"It's like paying a high power bill if your window is open," said league Project Manager Nancy Vinson.
State Ports Authority spokesman Byron Miller said he did not know about the report before the league released its findings at a news conference Wednesday.
He highlighted the SPA's Pledge for Growth, which includes more than $5 million in diesel-emissions-grant projects from the Environmental Protection Agency to replace older engines in cargo-lifting equipment and watercraft and a truck rebate program to cut down on emissions.
He pointed out that the SPA switched to ultra-low sulfur diesel on all off-road equipment and that the agency conducted the first air emissions inventory in the Southeast. Miller said port operations account for about 1 percent of total fine particulate emissions in the Charleston area, according to that inventory.
"Even though it's a small percentage of all the overall emissions in Charleston, we're trying to do our part," he said.
Vinson said most of the port's efforts reduce overall pollution by less than 1 or 2 percent, mostly in cargo-handling equipment, which accounts for only about 10 percent of emissions. She said most of the problem comes from ships and trucks.
The study draws its conclusions by using data on the number of pollutants and their concentrations and the population and its risk for types of illnesses. It uses existing health-care studies to figure the average risks of those diseases, then applies that amount to standard costs for treating them.
"We either pay to fix the problem, or we pay in loss of life and poor health," Vinson said. The study cost the league $32,000.
The league displayed an inhaler, a pill bottle and other medical equipment on the conference table in its East Bay Street meeting room Wednesday. The group also brought medical experts.
William Prioleau, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, said air pollution causes tumors, inflammatory problems such as asthma and bronchitis and heart and blood conditions. He said older people with underlying problems face greater risks of air-pollution-related diseases.
The league commissioned the report after Charleston County received a failing grade from the American Lung Association for the third consecutive year and as the SPA moves forward with its expansion.
Former Abt researcher Don McCubbin said he took an environmental impact study prepared for the new terminal and modified it. He said the study, as completed, did not take into account motor vehicles emissions from within a reasonable radius or cruising emissions from ships coming into port.
Air quality expert and SPA consultant George Schewe said the port is responsible for a small part of the overall problem, and that the effect of new terminal seems inflated.
"The total emissions ... are very insignificant when you compare those to that regional inventory," Schewe said. "It's very difficult for me to understand why someone who says this particular facility is going to have an impact when you compare it to what is already there and obviously needs addressing."
Abt completed its report in March, yet the league waited nearly a year to release it, Vinson said, because of the power structure at the SPA before new Chief Executive Jim Newsome started on the job.
"We really felt like this report would've fallen on deaf ears if we released it before," she said. "Now that we have a guy who seems to be reasonable, who we can sit down at the table and work with, we feel like it was the time to release it."
The league plans to rally lawmakers for support, and one of its leaders meets with Newsome today.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or email@example.com.