Coal pile in Portland raises environmental and health concerns as dust spreads to other properties

Tod Dana walks past the large pile of coal next to his business on Cassidy Point Drive in Portland. His company, West Asia, has been close to the Sprague Energy coal yard for three years, but he is concerned about the effects on the environment. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

A pile of coal near the waterfront in Portland’s West End is raising environmental and health concerns and frustrating some nearby residents and businesses who fear the coal dust is spreading onto their properties.

They say it came from a pile of coal discovered at Sprague Energy just off West Commercial Street.

It’s everywhere, come in through windows, said Tod Dana, a Portland resident and owner of Asia West, a wholesale and retail business near Sprague.

Sprague Energy is one of the Northeast’s largest suppliers of energy products, according to its website.

But while the city and state have received complaints about the matter, they say there isn’t much they can do to quell the dust and Sprague isn’t breaking any rules.

The company declined to answer questions about why it is storing the coal there and what it is used for.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Sarah Southard and her husband live nearby with their two children and are concerned about them inhaling coal particles.

I’m near the pile every day for work, my kids play outside and in the West Cemetery, said Southard, a nurse. I don’t think many people realize it’s a pile of coal. At least most people I’ve talked to don’t realize it’s coal when I talk to them about it.

Cyrus Hagge owns a commercial building on Cassidy Point Drive. He said he knew about the coal pile when he decided to build at 121 Cassidy Point Drive. He said Sprague is a great neighbor, he just wants to know about mef what They are making is environmentally friendly Safe.

Some of his tenants have complained of dust, he said.

Sprague Energy’s coal pile was seen Friday from Cassidy Point Drive in Portland. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

Dana and Hagge sent a letter to Sprague detailing their grievances on May 3. Commercial property owners have said the fine carbon dust has led to costly cleanup efforts and costly repairs to their HVAC systems.

My biggest concern is where is this dust going? Hagge said. Are you going to Casco Bay?

In a statement to the Press Herald, Sprague said it filters any water runoff according to Maine Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

My hope is that they seek professional advice about health issues and do so openly and openly so they can share that information, Dana said. It would make me feel so much better.

COMPLIANT

Moving and processing coal can create airborne carbon particles that, if inhaled, can lead to disabling or fatal lung disease, according to a page from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the dangers of coal mining .

How far coal dust can travel depends on multiple factors, including factors such as particle size, particle weight, wind speed, relative humidity and other atmospheric conditions, said MDEP spokesman David Mother, in a note. In dry and windy conditions, the smallest and lightest particles can travel miles, while the largest and heaviest particles can only travel a few meters.

The city of Portland has received two complaints about the matter and has referred them to MDEP, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said in an email Thursday.

Sprague says he took the complaints seriously and launched an investigation in early May.

It’s important to note that the coal pile in question had been at Cassidy Point for decades, prior to Sprague’s 2004 lease of the terminal and subsequent purchase in 2017, Sprague said.

The company said it has undergone numerous inspections by MDEP and has consistently been found to comply with regulations.

We remain committed to implementing mitigation measures to minimize the spread of dust and particulate matter, Sprague said, adding that he is using a spray to control the amount of fine coal dust that is released into the air.

As for the city, the seafront it has zoning ordinances, but dust control isn’t one of the standards, so the city has no control over it. It is run by the state-level DEP, Grondin said.

Portland’s waterfront port development zoning requires, aAll uses will do comply with federal and state environmental statutes and regulations with regard to emissions into the atmosphere, except where the provisions of this Town Planning Code are more stringent.

Federal aviation regulations don’t apply to Spragues’ coal storage operations, Madore said, and only a state’s visible emissions regulation does.

MDEP and the state Office of Air Quality received a complaint about the coal last summer and have launched an inspection, Madore said. Subsequently, Sprague hired a third party to evaluate his coal-loading operations and found no problems, he said.

Another inspection was completed on April 11 following recent complaints, according to a letter to Sprague from MDEP.

Sprague says it has done more to limit coal dust, such as using a new fouling agent that is sprayed on the pile to help reduce water infiltration problems, the letter says.

We have implemented additional measures such as sweeping the terminal, installing an additional irrigation system and are actively exploring the option of fully covering the coal pile to further address the concerns raised, Sprague said in the statement.


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