Department of Ecology News Release - December 28, 2023

New report shows air pollution hits Washington’s most vulnerable the hardest

Many Washington communities are highly impacted by air pollution (Credit: Rocco Pelatti, National Weather Service, Spokane)

Olympia  – 

In a new report from the Washington Department of Ecology, researchers investigated health data for 16 overburdened areas of Washington and found people in these communities face a higher death rate from air pollution than the state average.

The report – required under the state’s landmark Climate Commitment Act – predicts that older adults in these communities are twice as likely to die from health conditions linked to breathing fine particles (PM2.5) from human-caused sources. In analyzing data for 2016 to 2020, the report found that people of all ages in the communities lived an average 2.4 years less than people in the rest of Washington. 

The report also shows higher rates of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions across the 16 areas, where Ecology has identified vulnerable populations that face high levels of air pollution in addition to social, economic, and environmental inequities.

“The findings in this report underscore the importance of the strong air quality and environmental justice provision contained in the Climate Commitment Act,” said Laura Watson, Ecology’s director. “The Climate Commitment Act not only decreases harmful greenhouse gas emissions but also takes concrete steps to reduce air pollution that unfairly impacts the most vulnerable people in our state.”

The report is the first in a series that will be published every two years to track progress towards reducing outdoor air pollution and greenhouse gases, as well as improvements in human health in the 16 places – which represent multiple towns, communities, and neighborhoods and more than 1.2 million people. It provides baseline data compiled from Washington’s air monitoring network, the Washington State Department of Health, industry greenhouse gas reports, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among other tools and data sets.

Washington map showing 16 areas overburdened and highly impacted by air pollution

This list is intended for the purposes outlined in the environmental justice review section of the Climate Commitment Act.

As part of this work, Ecology has started to expand its statewide air monitoring network – already robust – to gather more data in the 16 identified areas and to seek input from community members about the best locations for additional air monitors and sensors.

This work to improve air quality under the Climate Commitment Act will include a new grant program, which the agency will design with communities and environmental justice representatives to address local air pollution concerns. The $10-million grant program will be implemented in 2024. Ecology will also work with local governments, air quality agencies, and interested Tribes to establish stricter air quality standards to protect these communities.

Ecology recently released a public survey to learn more about local air pollution concerns and invites participation from anyone who lives, works, and/or plays in or near the 16 places.

Related links

Full 2023 Report
Initiative to Improve Air Quality In Overburdened Communities
Overburdened Communities Highly Impacted by Air Pollution – StoryMap

Contact information

Susan Woodward