PORTLAND -- Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen is concerned about coal dust and diesel fumes, and he wants the health department to study to the risks.
Cogen made the announcement Monday, ordering county health officers to study what adding coal train traffic on county tracks could mean to the health of residents.
“Here’s what we already know: coal and coal dust contain toxic heavy metals like arsenic mercury and lead, which are linked to cancer and birth defects,” said Cogen.
An alliance supporting building at least five coal export terminals in the northwest says health risks are minimal and the boost to the economy includes about $2 billion in investment and the addition of thousands of jobs, including 900 permanent jobs at the terminals. Most of the coal would be shipped to Asia.
The Alliance for NW Jobs and Exports released a statement saying, “We support the careful review of shipping terminals and coal exports to ensure the safety of our environment and communities. At the same time, we urge elected officials with an ideological agenda not to manufacture opposition that will only kill the jobs and tax revenues these projects will create for Oregonians.”
Whether building coal export terminals becomes a reality, is up to state and federal authorities.
But Cogen said it is time for local governments to become a part of the conversation.
“What we do have is the moral authority to raise this issue- if we discover through this assessment that this is a serious health problem we will be screaming loud and clear to state and federal leaders to not do this to us," he said. "On the other hand if we find that things are OK, we’ll say, 'hey it doesn’t look so bad.'”
Cogen also ordered the county's Office of Emergency Management to study what impact adding as many as 32 100 car coal trains a day could have on emergency response vehicles trying to cross train tracks.