Wildfires significantly impact air quality in the region
The American Lung Association “State of the Air” 2019 report found that the Seattle-Tacoma region’s air quality worsened from 15th most polluted in the country last year to ninth this year for short-term particle pollution.
The annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution, both of which can be deadly. The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. Many of these spikes in the Seattle-Tacoma area were directly linked to events like wildfires, which are increasing in frequency and intensity in many areas due to climate change. This problem is likely to continue as temperatures rise; our changing climate is likely to stoke more wildfires in the future. The consequence for our public health and safety is sobering.
“People in the Puget Sound area should know that we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by wildfires as a result of climate change, placing our health and even lives at risk,” said Allison Hickey, National Executive Vice President for the American Lung Association Western Region. “In addition to challenges here, many other areas in Washington have seen worsening air quality. Right now, more than four in 10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health and people’s lives.”
In addition to short-term particle pollution, Seattle-Tacoma jumped from 72nd last year to 35th most polluted area in the nation for ozone pollution.
King County dropped from a “C” to an “F” grade and overtook Snohomish County as the most polluted county for annual particle pollution in the metro area.
Across the state, Yakima now ranks as the sixth most-polluted area in the U.S. for short-term particle pollution, worse than last year. The Spokane Valley-Coeur d’Alene area was tied for 15th most-polluted city in the U.S. for short-term particle pollution and suffered its worst-ever particle pollution in the 20-year history of the report. Conversely, Bellingham ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the nation for both ozone and year-round particle pollution.
Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution.
Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Hickey. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
While the report examined data from 2015-2017, this 20th annual report online provides information on air pollution trends back to the first report. Learn more about Seattle-Tacoma’s rankings, as well as air quality across Washington and the nation, in the 2019 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota.
Ten most polluted cities for Short-term Particle Pollution
1. Bakersfield, CA
2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
3. Fairbanks, AK
4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
5. Missoula, MT
6. Yakima, WA
7. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
8. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, UT
9. Seattle-Tacoma, WA
10. Pittsburgh – New Castle – Weirton,
11. Logan, UT-ID
12. Visalia, CA
13. Phoenix Mesa, AZ
14. El Centro, CA
15. Spokane-Spokane Valley – Coeur d’Alene,
15. Sacramento-Roseville, CA
– American Lung Association