Mike Smith, a low-income resident of Market House in the Pike Place Market, said he's had four colds so far this year, which is unusual.
Now, he and some of his neighbors are pointing the finger at Seattle Steam, which in 2009 started burning refuse wood in a new biomass boiler it installed in its facility at 1319 Western Ave.
In the June 8 edition of Real Change, an editorial by environmental activist Duff Badgley about the steam plant seemed to explain Smith's mysterious illnesses.
Smith and 20 other Market residents met with Seattle Steam CEO Stan Gent Aug. 9 at the Pike Place Market to present their concerns.
Gent said the residents were wrong to think the Seattle Steam plant's emissions are making them sick.
By burning biomass, a combination of waste wood that can include tree limbs, palettes and refuse lumber, Seattle Steam recycles waste material and provides heat for 200 downtown buildings, Gent said.
In the past two years, Seattle Steam has burned only 15 tons of waste wood, he said. The facility will burn 40 tons this year and top out at 80 tons in 2012.
According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which monitors the plant's emissions from a testing station at Ninth Avenue and Boren Street, Seattle Steam is in compliance with its permit.
The biomass emits no measurable particulate, Gent said.
But Pike Place Market residents remained skeptical, arguing that the particles that can't be measured pose the most danger.
"Why should there be any additional pollution allowed in a dense urban area?" asked Matthew Steinbrueck, owner of Raven's Nest Treasure and brother of former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck.
Gent told the residents they should take the issue up with regulators.
"We're not aware of any health impact on anybody," he told them. "Your illness is yours."
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency said Seattle Steam conducted pollution testing at the plant source in July and it expects the results in mid to late September.