Tod Dana walks in front of the large coal pile next to his business on Cassidy Point Drive in Portland. His business, Asia West, has been next door to the Sprague Energy coal pile for three years but he’s worried about the environmental effects. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A coal pile near the waterfront in Portland’s West End is raising environmental and health concerns and frustrating some nearby residents and businesses who worry coal dust is spreading onto their properties.

They say it is coming from an uncovered coal pile at Sprague Energy, just off West Commercial Street.

“It’s everywhere, it’s coming in through the windows,” said Tod Dana, Portland resident and owner of Asia West, a retail and wholesale business near Sprague.

Sprague Energy is one of the Northeast’s largest suppliers of energy products, according to its website.

But while the city and state have received complaints about the issue, they say there’s not much they can do to tamp down on the dust – and Sprague isn’t breaking any rules.

The company declined to answer questions about why it is storing coal there and what it’s used for.



Sarah Southard and her husband live nearby with their two children and worry about them inhaling coal particles.

“I am near the pile daily for work, my kiddos play outside and in the western cemetery,” said Southard, a nurse practitioner. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that’s a coal pile. At least most people I have talked with do not realize that is coal when I bring it up with them.”

Cyrus Hagge owns a commercial building on Cassidy Point Drive. He said he knew about the coal pile when he decided to build at 121 Cassidy Point Drive. He said Sprague is a great neighbor, he just wants to know “if what they’re doing is environmentally safe.”

Some of his tenants have complained about the dust, he said.

The Sprague Energy coal pile was seen from Cassidy Point Drive in Portland on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Dana and Hagge sent a letter to Sprague detailing their complaints on May 3. The commercial property owners said that the fine coal dust has resulted in “burdensome cleaning effort and expensive repairs” to their HVAC systems.


“My biggest concern is where is this dust going?” Hagge said. “Is it going into the Casco Bay?”

In a statement to the Press Herald, Sprague said they filter any water runoff according to Maine Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

“My hope is that they would seek professional advice about the health issues and do that openly and overtly that they could share that information,” Dana said. “That would make me feel much better.”


Moving and processing coal can create airborne coal particles that, when breathed in, can lead to disabling or fatal lung diseases, according to a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page about the dangers of coal mining.

“The distance coal dust can travel depends on multiple factors, including factors such as particle size, particle weight, wind speed, relative humidity, and other atmospheric conditions,” MDEP spokesperson, David Madore, said in a statement. “Under dry, windy conditions smaller, lighter particles could travel miles, while larger, heavier particles may only travel a few feet.”


The city of Portland has received two complaints about the issue and referred them to the MDEP, Jessica Grondin, spokesperson for the city, said in an email Thursday.

Sprague says it has taken the complaints seriously and initiated an investigation in early May.

“It is important to note that the coal pile in question has been present on Cassidy Point for decades, predating Sprague’s lease of the terminal in 2004 and subsequent purchase in 2017,” Sprague said.

The company said it has undergone numerous inspections by MDEP and has consistently been found in compliance with regulations.

“We remain dedicated to implementing mitigating measures to minimize the spread of dust and particulate matter,” Sprague said, adding that it is using a spray to control how much of the fine coal dust is released into the air.

As far as the city is concerned, the waterfront has zoning ordinances, but “dust control is not one of the standards, so the city has no control over it. It is handled by the DEP at the state level,” Grondin said.


Portland waterfront port development zoning requires, “all uses shall comply with federal and state environmental statutes and regulations regarding emissions into the air, except where provisions of this Land Use Code are more stringent.

Federal air regulations don’t apply to Sprague’s coal storage operations, Madore said, and only one state regulation on visible emissions does.

MDEP and the state Bureau of Air Quality received a complaint about the coal last summer and started an inspection, Madore said. Afterward, Sprague hired a third party to evaluate its coal loading operations and found no issues, he said.

Another inspection was completed on April 11 following recent complaints, according to a letter to Sprague from MDEP.

Sprague says they’ve done more to limit the coal dust, like using a new “crusting agent” that is sprayed onto the pile “to help reduce water infiltration issues,” the letter said.

“We have implemented additional measures such as terminal sweeping, installation of an extra sprinkler system, and are actively exploring the option of covering the coal pile entirely to further address concerns raised,” Sprague said in the statement.

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