Survey will monitor cruise ship emissions in downtown Juneau this summer

A Celebrity Cruises ship sails into Juneau in 2012 with emissions coming out of its stack. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

The last comprehensive study of air quality during the summer in downtown Juneau was done about 17 years ago. Now the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is planning to start tracking air quality again to learn more about the impact of cruise ship emissions.

They shared details about the program at a public meeting Tuesday.

Juneau resident Sarah Davidson said she’s been concerned about pollution coming from cruise ships.

“I was affected by the air quality this past summer. My eyes burned on some days, I got headaches on other days, especially when there wasn’t any wind,” she said Tuesday at a learning session hosted by the Juneau Commission on Sustainability.

She and about 40 other Juneau residents attended the session to learn more about what the state is doing to monitor cruise ship emissions.

Ed White manages the DEC’s cruise ship monitoring program. He said the 2018 season saw a big uptick in the number of public complaints about cruise ship emissions.

The department sent out nine violation notices to ships in five different coastal communities last year.

But White also admits that the system for monitoring those emissions is limited.

The DEC’s monitoring program is done by an in-person team not using any fancy equipment — just their eyes to see how thick the plumes of smoke coming out of the ship’s stacks are.

“The cruise ship monitoring just monitors for compliance, but we don’t really look into what is in that,” White said after Tuesday’s session.

That means his department’s job is just to see if the smoke coming out of the ships is too thick — not to determine what’s in the smoke or what the effect is on residents.

That’s why they’re working with the Division of Air Quality this summer to take a closer look at air quality downtown.

The division is planning to place 20 sensors around town to measure particulate pollution. They’ll also have 10 mobile sensors at additional sites on days with more ships.

At the end of the meeting, the public was invited to place markers on a map of downtown Juneau to help the team decide where to place the electronic monitors.

Juneau residents place dots on a map at a local meeting addressing air quality concerns from cruise ships.
Juneau residents place markers on a map of downtown Juneau at a at a learning session hosted by the Juneau Commission on Sustainability on Jan. 29, 2019. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Barbara Trost from the division said they’re also looking for local volunteers to help. She said the volunteers would be powering and hosting the air quality sensors on their property for the summer.

The outcome of the project will help the division determine if more sophisticated studies are needed.

But air quality isn’t the only concern Juneau residents have.

Davidson is also the water program manager for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

She said she called the DEC twice last summer, but not about air quality. She called to report water pollution from cruise ships in Gastineau Channel.

She doesn’t know what caused the pollution, but she thinks one potential source could be scrubbers. That’s the system ships use to remove sulphur dioxide emissions from exhaust.

That material has to go somewhere, and in some case it ends up in Southeast waters.

“It’s an attempt at solving an air quality issue, but it’s creating a water quality problem,” Davidson said. “I think that needs more attention, more studying, more science.”

The air sensors will be placed by the start of this summer’s cruise season and operate until October.

Clarification: The phrasing of a part of this story has been adjusted to more accurately reflect Juneau resident Sarah Davidson’s thoughts on water pollution from cruise ships.

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