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Wash. Air Quality Concerns Go Beyond Smoky Wildfire Season

The Seattle metro area experienced nearly a month of bad air quality in 2016. (SounderBruce/Flickr)
The Seattle metro area experienced nearly a month of bad air quality in 2016. (SounderBruce/Flickr)
August 20, 2018

SEATTLE — Air quality could still be a problem, even after Washingtonians get through this active wildfire season. According to a new analysis, some Washington cities experienced more than a month of polluted air in 2016 from sources such as wildfire smoke and car exhaust.

The report "Trouble in the Air" found the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area - home to nearly 4 million people - experienced 26 days of bad air quality. Spokane had 51 bad air days and Yakima had 84. Bruce Speight, director of Environment Washington, said air pollutants such ground-level ozone can be detrimental to people's health.

"It can worsen asthma and lead to asthma attacks,” Speight said. “And then, particulate matter kind of lodges in the lungs, can get into the bloodstream and can contribute to heart problems and other health effects."

The Environment Washington Research and Policy Center, Frontier Group and WashPIRG Foundation put together the research by looking at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records of air pollution levels.

Washington cities don't top the list of most polluted. A number of metropolitan areas in California, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Sacramento, experienced more than 100 days of bad air quality in 2016. However, Speight said the Evergreen State still has room to improve.

"We clearly have our work cut out even here in Washington because even one day with polluted air is too many, and in 2018, all Washingtonians should be able to breathe clean air,” he said. “We know what we need to do to reduce air pollutants. We just need to take action to achieve that goal."

The report also warned that the effects of climate change could make this issue worse. But Speight said there are solutions at hand, such as saving the federal fuel efficiency standard for cars, which the Trump administration has proposed rolling back. The report suggests strengthening ozone and particulate matter standards in the Clean Air Act as well.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA