The Toll of Alaska's Coal: Health Impacts of Coal Export

January 23, 2013
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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Alaska possesses roughly half the nation’s coal—or nearly 1/8th of world reserves. As a result, there is growing interest in developing Alaska’s coal resources for export to Asia. But at every stage—mining, transportation, combustion and disposal—coal development threatens human health, air quality and water quality. There are four proposed strip mines in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley and another at Chuitna.

On this call hosted by CHE-Alaska, speakers discussed the adverse health effects of inhaling diesel particulate matter and coal dust—a significant risk for those communities along truck and train transportation routes—and how toxic emissions (which include mercury and other heavy metals) from coal-fired power plants in Asia travel back to Alaska, polluting our air, water, and fish.

Featured Speakers

Regna Merritt, is campaign director for Prevent Coal Exports, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. Regna works with health professionals and the Power Past Coal Coalition to identify and prevent negative health impacts of proposed coal export projects in the Pacific Northwest. A retired physician assistant and former executive director of Oregon Wild, Regna has worked for over 20 years to protect municipal drinking water. She was instrumental in efforts to secure federal legislation which protects the Bull Run, source of the largest municipal water supply in Oregon. Ms. Merritt graduated from US Public Health Service’s Physician Assistant Training Program and received her Bachelor of Science from SUNY.

Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, is director of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders and affiliate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington. His research has focused on neurobehavioral effects of low-level exposure to lead and mercury on the developing nervous system. His book, A Small Dose of Toxicology: The Health Effects of Common Chemicals, was published in 2004 and the 2nd edition is available for free as an e-book. He recently started the wiki-based website Toxipedia which includes a suite of sites that put scientific information in the context of history, society and culture.

Heidi Zimmer is environmental health and justice coordinator at Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Heidi holds a master’s in environmental science from Western Washington University and a bachelor’s in biology and english. Prior to joing ACAT, Heidi worked as an environmental scientist for a private firm conducting environmental site assessments and for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as a habitat biologist conducting hydrological assessments of culverts to evaluate potential fish passage, including field survey work, data analysis, modeling, and report writing.