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City Council, January 8

Non-smoking area around hospitals approved
Only comment of cruise ships was ours
Warwick Jones

The major item on last night’s agenda was the creation of a non-smoking area around Roper and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) hospitals. Council gave first reading to the proposed ordinance at its last meeting in December. However, some Council members supported it only on the understanding that it would be further studied and amendments considered at the second reading. At the second reading last night, the ordinance was passed again with some minor modifications - but not before considerable debate.

The original proposed non-smoking area encompassed the sidewalks of all the streets through and around the hospital campuses. Press Download file to see the streets. Responding to the request of Council member Lewis, the northern boundary has been taken back from the Expressway to Bee Street. The zone was also taken slightly further south along Ashley Avenue to encompass the Hope Lodge.

These proposed changes were not enough to persuade some critical Council members to support it. Council member Alexander led the opposition and proposed that instead of a blanket non- smoking area, the ordinance prohibit smoking within 100 feet of hospital entrances. He also proposed that the hospitals create areas where its workers and others could smoke. He and other Council members who supported him did not debate the evils of smoking – it was the infringement on citizen’s rights and the possibility of creating a difficult precedent that stirred them. Besides, the hospitals had created the problem by making all their buildings smoke free. They had virtually forced smokers out of the buildings onto the sidewalks. The subsequent congregation of smokers on sidewalks was created by the hospitals. Now the hospitals were asking the City Council to solve their problem.

Mayor Riley spoke a number of times on the issue and dismissed the notion that the ordinance would create an uncomfortable precedent. The two hospital campuses together were the largest in South Carolina. You could not extrapolate the creation of an ordinance as proposed to much smaller medical and other entities.

Council member Alexander’s motion came close to passing. The final vote was 6 to 6 with Council member Wilson abstaining because of a conflict of interest. A tie vote according to Council rules is a failed motion. Those who supported Council member Alexander were Council members White, Mitchell, Riegel, Hallman and Wagner. We’d also note Council member Wagner’s lament in his comment before the vote. He was not sure how he was going to vote. He thought that both sides of the issue were correct.

With Council member Alexander’s motion off the floor, the issue was to accept the original ordinance with the minor modifications proposed by the City. Council voted 9 to 3 in favor of the amended ordinance with Council members Alexander, White, Riegel and Mitchell opposed.

We will not attempt to describe the debate. Many of issues raised were predictable such as the rights of non- smokers and the impact of second hand smoke. The Citizens Participation period was taken up largely by speakers for the hospitals and health associations, all in favor of the originally proposed ordinance. And as one Council member remarked, there were no comments from smokers who opposed the creation of the non-smoking area.

The Mayor remarked on it and we would endorse his comments – the debate on Council over the issue was lively and civil. Most members spoke and many good points were raised by members on both sides of the issue. The depth of the debate was a credit to Council.

To our surprise, nothing was said last night about the Cruise ship issue. Late last week, the judge appointed by the State Supreme Court issued his opinion on the suit brought before the Court by the Coastal Conservation League (CCL) and others over cruise ship issues. Carnival, the SPA and the City of Charleston sought dismissal of the suit. So far we have only the Post and Courier’s take on the opinion, which considering its editorials on the subject over the last few years, is unlikely to be unbiased. In a phrase, the P&C indicated that in the Judge’s opinion the suit had no merit in relation to rezoning but issues relation to pollution and private and public nuisance did. We are endeavoring to get the whole opinion and will put it on line when we can.

The following is the comment I made on cruise ships in Citizen’s Participation.

Cruise ships

A lot of the claims of CCL will be put to rest with the decision of Judge Newman. Those relating to pollution and nuisance may linger.

I’d like to address one of those pollution claims.
The emissions of cruise ships are so bad, that citizens’ health is threatened. Even when the ships burn cleaner fuel next year, it will be bad. It will equal 34,000 idling tractor –trailers, CCL said in a recent letter to members soliciting contributions.

CCL has defined pollution as the emission in terms of sulfur dioxide.

The EPA mandates that diesel fuel used by tractor-trailers contain no more than 15 ppm of sulfur. Marpol regulations mandate that fuel burned by cruise ships in port after next year have no more than 1000 ppm of sulfur.

Let’s look at cruise ship emissions in absolute terms.

The Carnival Fantasy burns about 100 tons of fuel a day while cruising. When in port for 10 hours - engines idling - generating power only for light and air conditioning – it burns no more than about 4 tons. At 1000 ppm, the sulfur is 8 lbs – emitted at the rate of less than a lb an hour and for only 10 hours, twice a week.

Let’s put this all into a perspective.

Black powder, or gun powder is a major ingredient in fireworks. It propels the rockets, and provides the bangs and explosions. Sulfur comprises about 10% to 15% of black powder. And I’d guess that black powder comprises 50% or more of the contents of many fireworks.

Statistics on fireworks displays are not easy to find. Macy’s in New York is reported to set off 24 tons in its display. Assuming half this weight is represented by packaging - and black powder makes up 50% of the rest - the sulfur content could be over 1000 lbs.

I don’t know what Charleston sets off - probably 2 to 4 tons. But the sulfur content could still be more than 100 lbs – and probably double this if you include the displays organized by surrounding Cities and by citizens.

Another comparison.

In 2008, Mead West Vaco acknowledged the odour from the paper mill across the river in an interview with the Daniel Island News.It was in compliance with all regulations, it said.

At the time of writing, emissions were running at about 30,000 lbs a year, down from 180,000 lbs. Much of the emissions were sulfur based.

With future cruise ship emissions likely to amount to about 800 lbs a year, it makes you wonder what the fuss is about?

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