The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

Do Asian Coal Plants Pollute North America?

As BC ships more coal across Pacific, US researchers find transcontinental air pollution.

By Eric de Place 9 Apr 2012 |

Eric de Place is a senior researcher for the Sightline Institute in Seattle, Washington, a non-profit that relies on donations. Kathy Washienko provided research assistance for this article and the final paragraph, about B.C. coal mines and shipments, was added by The Tyee editorial team.

image atom
Poisonous boomerang? Photo by placid casual, flickr.

When we consider coal export plans, we would do well to consider the risk that byproducts of the coal may return to haunt us. In fact, there is a growing body of scientific research examining the ways that smokestack emissions cross oceans to cause pollution problems halfway around the world.

In March, for example, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released shocking research findings: Several recent studies have shown that powerful spring winds can carry Asian pollution into the atmosphere above North America... some of the imported pollution can descend to the surface, where it affects ground-level ozone, a regulated pollutant. At high concentrations, ground-level ozone can cause severe respiratory effects in some people, and it damages crops, trees, and other vegetation.

"We showed that Asian pollution directly contributes to surface ozone pollution episodes in parts of the western United States," said Meiyun Lin, Ph.D, lead author of the new study.

In other words, some of the air pollution problems in North America result from the pollution emitted by Asian coal plants and industrial facilities.


NOAA's findings were not entirely new, however.

The Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution has found that as much as a quarter of ground level ozone pollution in the northern mid-latitudes arrives from the stratosphere. Downwind of eastern Asia (i.e. in North America), researchers have clearly documented that marine air can import ozone concentrations that exceed air quality standards. Scientists there have also shown that soot, dust, and mercury can travel from one continent to another.

There's a northwest dimension to the intercontinental pollution story too. As the Seattle-based think tank Sightline has pointed out, sulfur compounds, soot, and other byproducts of Asian coal combustion are detectable on mountaintops in the western United States. Researchers have also linked ozone in the air above the United States to pollution from developing Asian countries that are burning fossil fuels.

Mercury is especially likely to travel across the Pacific Ocean. An Oregon researcher estimates that as much as 18 per cent of the mercury in Oregon's Willamette River comes from sources overseas, increasingly from China. Another study found that human-created pollution from Asia contributed to 14 per cent of the mercury dropped on Mount Bachelor in central Oregon.

Greenhouse gas boomerang

Yet the most pernicious form of pollution that crosses geographic boundaries may simply be the greenhouse gases that are emitted by burning large amounts of coal. For example, burning 100 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin region of Montana and Wyoming releases roughly 180 million tons of heat-trapping carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. That's about twice as much global warming pollution as results from every activity in the state of Washington in a year, including every power plant, car, truck, factory, and farm in the state combined.

British Columbia has 10 coal mines employing more than 4,000 workers, with at least 10 more coal mines possibly in the works. B.C. is a major trans-shipment point for coal produced in western North America, because there is no coal facility on the U.S. west coast. Increasing amounts of that coal is destined for Asia. The terminal at Tsawwassen, B.C., shipped approximately 27 million tonnes of coal in 2011, according to a recent article in the Vancouver Sun.

[Tags: Energy, Environment.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Environment

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll