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Resident takes state to task on cruise ship air quality assessment
By Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
Exhaust plumes rise from smoke stacks on cruise ships docked at Nawiliwili Harbor.
As gray clouds coil in the sky, trade winds push the pollution into the valley and soot rain falls like a feather onto the homes of Niumalu residents.
An Eastside community member has alleged this largely invisible health hazard through a series of letters over recent months to Gov. Linda Lingle, Mayor Bryan Baptiste, state legislators, the attorney general and health department officials.
Donald Greer, Ph.D., lives on Hulemalu Road behind Niumalu Park and Nawiliwili Harbor — the most active port for large vessels sailing to and from Kaua‘i.
From her home, she has observed the pollution descend upon valley families from the cruise ships idling at berth.
Often parked overnight at the port, the 900-foot vessels burn bunker fuel to power a dozen decks of fun and keep hundreds of cabins air-conditioned.
Greer has also observed the state’s response to residents’ complaints.
She now alleges fraud in the state Health Department’s cruise ship air quality assessment, primarily based on how specialists have tested the vessels’ emissions, plume exposure and soot rain.
In a two-page written response to Greer dated Sept. 26, Lingle denies the allegations and addresses the concerns Greer outlines in her six-page Sept. 3 letter to the governor.
“I have been informed that the (state Health Department) has investigated complaints of sewage and diesel exhaust odors since 2006 and is continuing to investigate the source of the odor and the possible impacts from the cruise ships docked at Nawiliwili Harbor,” the governor states. “The DOH has also conducted monitoring of pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide to determine presence of garbage or sewage, sulfur dioxide which is a product of combustion, and volatile organic compounds, utilizing both portable monitoring and screening methods such as the one mentioned in your letter. The presence of any of these pollutants would help in determining possible sources of the odor.”
After resolving the source of the garbage odors last year — determined to be from a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship’s digester which the company has voluntarily agreed to stop running at port — the Health Department has focused its attention on the ongoing complaints of diesel odors.
The department conducted tests this summer with sampling periods of two and four weeks using time-averaged passive sulfur dioxide detectors positioned at multiple Niumalu sites where the complaints occurred.
The results revealed levels of sulfur dioxide, a gas caused by combusting petroleum, that were well-below Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards for public health.
But Greer said the Health Department’s passive time-averaged methods fail to measure the total emissions, soot rain and plume concentrations necessary to determine if the cruise ships are indeed polluting Niumalu residents at unacceptable levels as she believes.
“When the (Health Department) used the time-averaged passive sulfur dioxide results to dismiss the cruise ship pollution complaints it became fraud,” Greer says in her Oct. 3 response to the governor’s letter.
“The (Health Department) has highly competent professionals in their Clean Air Branch and they must have known their time-averaged passive sulfur dioxide results were fraudulent.”
Greer has asked the state to conduct further testing of a different nature to verify the estimates she cites of cruise ship emissions and plume exposure.
When Norwegian Cruise Lines “Pride of Hawaii” stayed overnight at Nawiliwili Harbor Sept. 22, Greer says in her letter, the ship released more than seven tons of pollution — more than all the cars on Kaua‘i produce in a day.
Greer calculated the estimate using the EPA’s “Current Methodologies and Best Practices for Preparing Port Emission Inventories” — a study presented at a conference May 17, 2006.
Using Cambridge University’s “Environmental Fluid Mechanics” study by E. Mastorakos, Ph.D., she estimates a Niumalu resident’s exposure to sulfur dioxide from a cruise ship’s plume at more than six times the national standard.
Health Department officials have said they will continue to investigate the complaints.
The results of a planned two-day test last month to measure sulfur dioxide levels on a Wednesday when no ships are in the harbor and on a Saturday when the department receives most of its complaints on emission odors were unavailable at press time.
However, even that test, which would use 24-hour time-averaged sampling, may not measure the levels Greer says are necessary to determine the alleged cruise ship pollution.
“The time-averaged passive sulfur dioxide detectors were designed to be used in areas where the pollution concentration levels are uniform and fairly constant such as Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, D.C.,” she states. “The detectors were not designed to measure a single source plume such as that in Niumalu Valley where the path of the plume moves in and out of the detector’s presence.”
In her letter, Lingle says the Health Department can estimate the emissions from cruise ships and other sources, but due to “varying meteorological conditions, different ships in port and the interaction between the emissions from different sources, the most appropriate approach to identify and resolve the air pollution issues is with air quality monitoring.”
Greer explains in her letter to the governor that measuring soot rain — the particles that cool and fall toward the ground from sulfur dioxide plumes — is similar to recording rainfall. The detectors must be placed below the cloud, she says.
“If the path of the plume is traveling 100 meters to the left of the detector, then the soot rain is falling 100 meters to the left of the detector,” she states. “Therefore, if the plume location is not measured, there will be no evidence to suggest that the detectors were below the plume and the measurement will be invalid.”
The governor acknowledges the Health Department’s awareness of the potential health hazards, such as cancer, from being exposed to particulates or soot formed from incomplete combustion.
“However, the complaints received were mainly of sewage and diesel exhaust odors and not on soot,” Lingle says. “The method used to measure particulates does not allow a clear determination to the source. Particulate or soot was not measured due to numerous other combustion and dust sources in the harbor.”
The Health Department has repeatedly said it remains unconvinced cruise ships are the source of the exhaust odors in Niumalu. In the least, officials have said the vessels share the burden with heavy trucks and other vehicles that run in the area.
“Efforts are underway to conduct further monitoring, including particulate sampling, and to explore the possible air quality impacts from the cruise ships docked in the harbor,” Lingle says in her letter.
In her Oct. 3 letter, Greer says, “Perhaps the only solution is to move the cruise ships to Port Allen where the prevailing winds are ‘out-to-sea.’”
In the meantime, she suggests cruise ships change to marine gas oil to reduce pollution emissions about 70 percent compared to the residual oil “bottom of the barrel” fuel the vessels currently burn when berthed.
Health Department officials have said fuel samples collected from Hawai‘i cruise ships have shown sulfur content ranges similar to levels burned in Mainland ports.
Greer and Lingle in their letters indicated that efforts to pinpoint the source of the exhaust odors and determine pollution levels in Niumalu Valley should and will continue.
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