Politics & Government

Board of Health votes to ask Tacoma for health study on methanol project

The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health voted unanimously to ask the city of Tacoma to require a human health assessment for a proposed methanol plant on the Tacoma Tideflats.

The vote does not create a mandate; the board can only ask. But board members say a health impact assessment for the Northwest Innovation Works proposal would answer questions that a city environmental study would not.

More than 60 people packed the Health Department’s auditorium for a meeting that normally draws few visitors. Among them was state Sen. Jeannie Darneille, who said a health impact assessment would bring much needed data and science to a conversation that so far has had little of either.

“Help us to not just have a knee-jerk reaction or not just rely on our emotions,” Tacoma Democrat said. “We’ve asked for answers to very legitimate and simple questions, and all we have received is propaganda.”

Many in the crowd welcomed a chance for a more comprehensive study of potential health effects for a large industrial use like the methanol facility.

Health Department director Dr. Anthony L-T Chen said, “A full-blown health impact assessment can take 18 months to two years if you do significant community engagement and examine complicated issues.”

Bliss Moore, a member of the local Sierra Club, said the community has asked for information about the plant’s air pollutants and gotten no answers.

“It’s very frustrating to not have a tool to help get to the bottom of this early on,” Moore said.

Among those who voted in favor are Victoria Woodards and Marty Campbell. Both are members of the Tacoma City Council, which has refused to stake a public position on the methanol plant to avoid compromising the city’s own environmental review process for the $3.4 billion project.

But as members of the Board of Health, Campbell and Woodards both supported the recommendation. Campbell said the health impact assessment would go beyond the environmental assessment the city planning department was conducting before Northwest Innovation Works halted the review of its project in February.

“This is a message for Northwest Innovation Works: You should do this,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of questions out in the community and the (environmental impact statement) won’t answer all of them.”

The board also voted to ask cities and towns in Pierce County, as well as the county, to require a health impact assessment for projects significant enough to trigger state environmental policy review. A third resolution asks the Legislature to require the health impact study statewide.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports