Data Center Proposal Generates Unanswered Questions – an Internet site devoted to providing information about earth and the environment – published an article last week with the headline, “What are we willing to give up for computing power?”

It referred to a research paper written by doctoral candidates at the University of California, Riverside, and stated that “The increasing demand for computing power generates a variety of environmental consequences.”

According to the paper, “The pollutants generated by data centers pose significant health risks. These include increased chances of cancer, heart disease [and] shortened lifespans. Consequently, residents living near these power plants bear the brunt of these environmental and health impacts.”

It’s not surprising then that the residents of Chantilly’s Pleasant Valley community, as well as others in Fairfax County, are giving serious scrutiny to a proposal to construct a huge data center. And they hope the Board of Supervisors will do likewise and not be swayed by the large amount of tax dollars it would bring.

Pleasant Valley’s Cynthia Shang and her neighbors still have a slew of concerns that haven’t yet been addressed to their satisfaction, such as how much water the data center would use. And despite the developer’s contention that any diesel leaks will be contained onsite, they’re still worried about the possibility of contaminating the county’s drinking water.

“What are the impacts of potential fuel leaks from 27, 500-gallon diesel fuel tanks, plus the 5,000-gallon base tanks each of them would have?” Shang wondered. “And what plans are in place to ensure that any such leaks won’t negatively impact the RPA [Resource Protection Area] or the Cub Run Stream?”

Likewise, Virginia Run’s Jim Hart, a former Fairfax County planning commissioner, worries about “so much diesel fuel delivered and stored in an environmentally sensitive stream valley, as well as such an intense use adjacent to homes zoned residential conservation. …  The applicant has been unwilling to commit to cleaner technology than diesel generators.”

Loudoun County already has 115 data centers, more than 40 have been built in Prince William County and more are in the pipeline in both counties. Nearly 50 already exist in Fairfax County, including one along Route 50 near the Fairfax/Loudoun border. And now, a 2.3 million-square-foot data center park is planned for construction by Starwood Capital Group near 13832 Redskin Drive in the Oak Hill section of the Sully District.

So, in light of this proliferation of data centers, Hart has a few more questions about air pollution because of them as well as “the cumulative effect of data centers on the region, on air quality and health. What are the long-term effects on human health and the environment? And how many data centers are too many if we’re maxed out on air quality already?”