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Rob Sargent,
Environment Washington

Seattle’s health at risk with dirty air days in 2015

For Immediate Release

Seattle, WA – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Washington Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area experienced 137 days with elevated particulate matter pollution, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Executive Director. “Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health. It’s time to shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

“We could achieve enormous and immediate health co-benefits from burning less fossil fuels,” said Dr. Kenneth Lans, MD, MBA, Vice President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The same fossil fuel combustion that is responsible for the dangerously rising levels of CO2 is also responsible for most of our other air pollutants: particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. We have years of evidence and clinical experience showing that burning fossil fuels has had significant, direct, and harmful impacts on heart disease, lung disease and other health problems.”

The report comes on the heels of National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;
  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“Going backwards on clean air is reckless and wrong,” said Speight. “We should be doing more to clean up pollution and develop clean energy, not less.

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area experienced 43 days with elevated smog pollution and 137 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.
  • Across Washington, three cities had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least six days during 2015, including three unhealthy air pollution days in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area, and two in the Vancouver-Portland, OR-WA metro area.
  • In Washington, wildfires, already increasing in intensity and frequency due to drought and higher temperatures, create particulate matter and other air pollution that can travel for hundreds of miles. One of the report findings is that the counties that experienced the most frequent particulate pollution often were downwind from major wildfires.

Many Washingtonians may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“There's no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, “Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Speight. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Along with drought, warming is also making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.”

Speight urged Washington’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, we look forward to working with Senators Cantwell and Murray as we work to stand up for our health,” said Speight. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

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Environment Washington Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.environmentwashingtoncenter.org.