Two companies on the Tacoma Tideflats that work with fossil fuels want to expand their operations, but first must get approval from a regional air quality agency.
Targa Sound Terminal, which leases petroleum and biofuel storage tanks, wants to add natural gasoline to the products it receives by rail, stores and sends out from its location in the Port of Tacoma.
Targa wants to receive, store and ship an average of a 107-car fuel train a week of the natural gas derivative that’s often added to regular gasoline.
Emerald Services, a waste-treatment and storage facility that operates a used motor oil refinery, wants to increase its permitted capacity by 10 percent.
The permits have to be reviewed by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to make sure the companies comply with air quality standards as they expand their operations.
Staff members from the agency said they are conducting a review of the permit applications. As of now, they said, they don’t think there will be a reason to deny the permits, though conditions might be attached to the approval.
But amid increasing unrest about fossil fuel processing and heavy industry on the Tideflats, environmentalists and Northeast Tacoma neighbors are worried. They packed a meeting at the Center at Norpoint last week to ask questions and express concern about what they fear could bring more pollution to that corner of Tacoma.
Some complained that the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has only one monitor for particulate matter in the port, and doesn’t regularly monitor other pollutants, such as benzene, which is found in gasoline and other fuels and which the American Cancer Society says is known to cause cancer.
The agency mostly monitors for fine particle pollution, said technical analysis manager Kathy Strange, because of the associated respiratory and cardiac health effects.
“We don’t have fixed permanent monitors for air toxics, including benzene,” Strange said. “Air toxics are an entire class … we don’t monitor for them all the time. We do at times apply for grants to be able to monitor for these, so we have at different times monitored for benzene and other toxics.”
Strange and others from the agency said benzene levels in Tacoma and other communities off Interstate 5 are high because they are near the freeway. Any additional benzene emissions from an increase in operations at Targa and Emerald Services would be insignificant, the agency said.
“We all live near roadways, and cars and transportation are the main source of benzene,” Strange said. “The good news story is that benzene in our area is improving year over year, and largely that is because of improvements in mobile source air toxics emissions — cars being more efficient and the benzene content in fuels has gone down.”
Claudia Riedener, an organizer of anti-fossil fuels group RedLine Tacoma, said she and others want to know which pollutants are coming off the Tideflats, and how much.
“It seems all theoretical,” Riedener said. “It appears, in my personal opinion, that without true scientific data, how are we to know what’s actually happening? So I see a problem with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency not measuring … these other toxic chemical compounds.”
Riedener pointed out that Emerald Services has a history of environmental violations: In 2010, the state Department of Ecology fined the company $14,000 by for mishandling the cleanup of an oil spill on the Tideflats.
The company also paid more than $140,000 in fines and mitigation costs to the Ecology Department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 for releasing nearly 1,700 pounds of toluene, an industrial solvent, into a Tacoma storm drain.
Northeast Tacoma, for its part, recently decided to take pollution monitoring into its own hands. Resident Ann Locsin led an effort to apply for grant funding from within the Northeast Tacoma Neighborhood Council to buy air quality monitors for collecting data near homes.
The neighborhood council and the city approved about $9,300 to purchase the monitors, funded from the city’s Neighborhood Small Innovative Grant program. Each neighborhood council in the city gets to select the projects to be funded within their district, up to a total of $36,000.