No one would have thought that the proposed Gateway Pacific marine terminal up by Cherry Point in Whatcom County would pose likely dangers to our beloved Chinatown-International District (CID) neighborhood. Interim Community Development Association (CDA) held its regular community forum last month about this issue.

Eighteen coal trains a day as long as a mile-and-a half each, are planned to run through the Fifth Avenue tunnel to get American coal to China. That area, right next to the CID, has the worst air quality in the City of Seattle. The increased coal train traffic is predicted to spread diesel particulate matter and open-pit coal, dust-related mercury and heavy-metal pollution into the air. This is going to be a big public health problem for our elders who live here, people who work here and visitors who patronize our businesses and services. This type of air pollution is associated with asthma and respiratory diseases and will be added on top of particulates from Seattle’s acid rain as it falls from the clouds to the ground, landing on CID historic buildings and structures to expedite their degradation. It could mean a slow death for our beloved CID.

Stopping the coal trains from running along the west side of the CID is going to take a lot of work and political will. The train tracks belong to the federal government, not to the city or county. Aside from asking federal agencies to study the impacts on our neighborhood, we need to influence state, King County and city public health officials, as well as environmental justice and historic preservation stewards, to beat the drums and stop the coal trains from coming.

Our CID agencies and friends have taken the first step of having the feds include in their environmental impact study our health, environmental justice and historic preservation concerns.  To date, Asian Counseling and Referral Service and International Community Health Services have registered our health concerns with the feds; Community Coalition on Environmental Justice, Got Green? and Interim’s Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development (WILD), our environmental justice concerns; the Chinese Expulsion Project,  Densho, Filipino American Historical Kiosk Project and the Organization of Chinese Americans, our historic preservation concerns; and the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, Interim CDA and Seattle Chinatown-International District Public Development Association our overall concerns for the CID.

It’s ironic that the planned coal imports to China is going to make their off-the-chart air pollution rating worse.  Along the way, it can make our CID air pollution even more worse than it is already.  We are all saying “Not in our backyards.” Stay tuned.  I’ll be a long battle.  More to come.

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