Oakland City Council decision to ban coal export facility will protect health of local residents, says Executive Director Seth Shonkoff

OAKLAND, Calif. (June 28, 2016) — Early this morning, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to ban the transport, storage and shipping of coal and petroleum coke at the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal to be built in West Oakland at the former Oakland Army Base. The Council stated that the pollution from the coal would harm workers and residents, and the eventual combustion of the coal would contribute to climate change and more air pollution.

Seth Shonkoff, PSE’s executive director and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, collaborated with researchers at Human Impact Partners, UC Berkeley and other institutions on an independent study that reviewed the scientific literature on the health, climate and safety risks of the proposed project, which would have transported coal by rail from Utah to the Port of Oakland, and then shipped it overseas to Asian markets.

The study found that transporting coal would increase concentrations of particulate matter — small airborne particles that enter the human respiratory tract when inhaled — from coal dust and diesel exhaust in communities along the rail lines, locations that already suffer from poor air quality. Fine particulate matter is definitively associated with premature death and many severe medical problems including increases in lung cancer, hospitalization for heart and lung disease, emergency room visits, asthma attacks, adverse birth outcomes, school and work loss and respiratory symptoms. Alongside a separate study by ESA Consulting and an independent public health review conducted by Zoe Chafe, a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University, current research concluded that coal shipping and handling would result in high disease and mortality impacts on local residents and workers at the facility.

“I applaud the Oakland City Council for their strong leadership in protecting the health of the West Oakland community and communities all along the rail line where coal would be transported, handled and exported,” said Shonkoff, who is also affiliated with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The science on the public health impacts of exposure to coal dust and products of coal combustion, such as particulate matter and toxic heavy metals, unambiguously shows that these contribute to disease and mortality, particularly among our country’s most vulnerable communities living close to facilities where these are present.” He continued, “The City of Oakland is already an emerging leader in clean, renewable energy and is continuing to implement technologies to abate toxic air contamination and greenhouse pollution. The scientific evidence strongly supports the City’s decision to stay focused on a clean future for their community by avoiding this project. This decision will have positive impacts for the health of the people of West Oakland, communities throughout California, and the entire global population.”

PSE Healthy Energy is a non-profit energy-science and policy-research institute led by physicians, scientists and engineers who are dedicated to supplying evidence-based, scientific and technical information and resources on the public health, environmental and climate dimensions of energy production and use. Our work focuses on unconventional oil and gas development, renewable energy and energy storage.