Data centers

We issue air quality permits to data centers to limit the air pollution that comes from diesel-powered backup generators. We also keep track of the combined impacts from the diesel exhaust that may occur from these generators.

Data centers, sometimes called server farms, house the servers that manage email, store data, and run computer applications. If you shop on the web or use popular social media sites, your information is routed through a data center.

Most of Washington's data centers are located in Quincy because the area offers dependable, lower cost electricity.

Air pollution from data centers

Each data center has many diesel-powered generators that are tested regularly. The air pollution most likely to affect health is diesel exhaust particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Diesel exhaust is a toxic air pollutant, containing fine particles that can cause health problems for people who are exposed frequently and at high enough levels. These tiny particles are too small for noses and upper respiratory systems to filter out of the air. The particles go deep into the lungs, where they can cause damage and chemical changes.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is another toxic air pollutant that can cause breathing problems when you're exposed for a short time, from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Nitrogen dioxide can make breathing harder for people who already have lung problems, such as asthma. It contributes to acid rain and smog.

When required, a data center must prepare a health impact assessment of their toxic air pollution (diesel exhaust and nitrogen dioxide).  Ecology must review each data center's health impact assessment before issuing a notice of construction permit.  The construction permit must be issued before a data center can be built or expanded.  

A bird's eye view of the Dell Data Center in Quincy.

Dell Data Center in Quincy.

Data centers by city within Ecology's air quality jurisdiction

For info on other data centers in Washington, contact the local clean air agency.