Delta is undertaking a coal dust monitoring program because of concerns about emissions from the Westshore Terminals facility at Roberts Bank.
CAO George Harvie recently confirmed the municipality is proceeding with a program to collect samples at a number of locations for approximately one month during the summer. The locations would be secure public property in Tsawwassen and/or residential properties from where Delta has received complaints.
The samples will be analyzed in a lab using electron microscopy to determine if coal particulates are present in the samples.
The study will be undertaken despite representatives with the terminal recently assuring Delta that millions will be spent this year to upgrade coal dust suppression capabilities.
Vice-president and general manager Denis Horgan appeared before Delta council several weeks ago to announce the coal port is planning to spend $7 million on new equipment.
Horgan also outlined the current system for suppressing coal dust as the material makes its way from the mine to Delta to be shipped around the world.
Currently, the facility has several different pieces of equipment used to help keep coal dust down. There are 77 ground-level rain guns that use recycled water to wet the stockpiled coal and 35 high mast sprays that spray clean water onto the piles.
Horgan said the company also uses water trucks to clean roads and sprays magnesium chloride a couple of times a year, which is also used on logging roads to keep dust down.
His presentation was in response to a letter from Harvie voicing concerns about coal dust in the community.
"There had been some reports of clouds of dust blowing from the rail cars on route to the terminal at Roberts Bank. Not only is this a potential air quality issue but there are also human health concerns related to the inhalation of dust particulates," Harvie said.
An earlier staff report on the issue, which had been pulled from council's agenda at the request of Westshore Terminals, notes that studies indicate the terminal is a significant source of coal dust, which is accumulating in the ocean sediments around the terminal. The report states finer coal particles are carried by wind further afield, however, the full extent of coal dust deposition isn't currently known.
"Of additional concern is the release of coal dust from rail cars transporting coal to the terminal.
Local observations suggest that mitigation measures implemented at the time of unloading in Montana, Wyoming and Alberta are no longer effective by the time the trains arrive in Delta," the report states.
A 2001 study of coal dust emissions found Westshore Terminals emitted roughly 715 tonnes of coal dust annually, but after the facility was upgraded in 2006, a more recent coal emission estimate had emissions at 177 tonnes in 2010.
The report notes although Metro Vancouver is the regulatory authority for air quality in the Lower Mainland, it does not routinely test for coal dust.
Its last coal dust sampling program was conducted in 1998.
An air quality monitoring station recently installed in Tsawwassen measures fine particulate levels in the ambient air, but the source of the particulates are not determined through that monitoring, the report states.
Another concern in Delta, meanwhile, is an application by Surrey Fraser Docks to handle up to four million tonnes of coal a year, with the potential to double that capacity in the future.
The application presents similar concerns, namely how coal dust will be controlled at the terminal as well as during transportation to the facility, the staff report adds.
Addressing those concerns, Port Metro Vancouver stated it "strives to ensure that new developments meet applicable standards and minimize environmental and community impacts."
In a presentation to council, Jeff Scott, president and chief executive officer of Fraser Surrey Docks, said, "We're looking for a dust emission-free facility."
The coal dust issue is certainly not a new one for Delta. In 1974, for example, municipal council called on the federal government to ensure rail cars delivering coal be properly covered.
Alderman Bill Reid at the time quipped the Roberts Bank superport should be declared a nightclub area so the municipality can impose a cover charge on the open CP Rail boxcars.
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