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Originally published May 9, 2012 at 8:49 PM | Page modified May 9, 2012 at 9:12 PM

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Pollution board rejects challenge to Microsoft's Quincy data center

The state's independent Pollution Control Hearings Board ruled Wednesday the Department of Ecology properly calculated the health risk of emissions from Microsoft's data center in Quincy, Grant County, in 2010, despite concerns of some citizens that server farms put the health of area residents at risk.

Seattle Times environment reporter

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An independent state board ruled the state did not err when it approved a permit for Microsoft to build a data center in Central Washington, despite concerns from some citizens that server farms pollute the air and could increase the odds that nearby residents might contract cancer.

The Pollution Control Hearings Board ruled Wednesday that the Department of Ecology properly calculated the health risk of emissions from Microsoft's data center in 2010.

It also agreed with the department that requiring each server farm to use expensive emission-control technologies was not necessary.

A group led by Patty Martin, the former mayor of Quincy, Grant County, had appealed Ecology's approval of Microsoft's data center, arguing that air pollution generated by it and the explosion of other data centers in Quincy put the health of residents at risk.

At least a half-dozen of the server farms have been built or proposed for the town of 6,200, and each includes massive diesel-powered generators to provide backup power in the event a server farm loses electricity.

At least 141 generators are being built around Quincy.

Ecology officials acknowledge that diesel exhaust pollutes the air and is a carcinogen, but said the amount of diesel pollution in Quincy even after all the server farms were built would still be far less than it is in most neighborhoods in Seattle, and the health risks would be infinitesimal.

An air-pollution expert retained by Martin had argued that the complex analysis used to reach that conclusion was fundamentally flawed.

On Wednesday, the hearings board said Ecology's analysis was, in fact, sound.

"The board find that the emissions estimates used to support the health-risk analysis and the analysis of compliance with emissions standards were validly derived," the board wrote.

It declined to overturn Microsoft's permit, but did tell Ecology to provide more detail about how it reached its conclusions.

It also required Ecology to change Microsoft's permit to further limit the use of backup generators and to be more specific about precisely how the company will test future emissions from the generators.

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @craigawelch.

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