Air pollution in the Seattle area has gone up
Air quality in the Seattle metro area, as measured by fine particle pollution, has worsened since 2012, but still falls well within currently listed safe ranges, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.
Why it matters: Fine particles, generated from fossil fuel burning, wildfire smoke and other sources, can enter our bodies when we breathe, making their way to the lungs or bloodstream and causing myriad health problems.
Details: They are linked to nearly 11,000 excess deaths across the U.S. annually, by one estimate.
- Non-white and low-income Americans are at a higher risk of death from exposure to fine particle pollution compared to other groups, per a 2022 study published in Nature.
- Fine particles — also known as PM2.5 due to their tiny size of 2.5 micrometers — are the most hazardous form of particulate matter.
By the numbers: The three-year rolling annual average concentration of fine particle pollution across the Seattle metro area was 7.4 micrograms per cubic meter as of 2021 (the latest year for which data is available), compared to 6.9 in 2012 — a 7% increase.
- Concentrations below 12 micrograms per cubic meter are considered healthy, the EPA says — though it is seeking to tighten that standard.
Zoom in: Air quality decreased notably between 2015 and 2021 in parts of Western states such as California, Oregon and Washington, where extended periods of extreme drought have created prime conditions for wildfires, and thus increased pollution from smoke.
- At times last year, Seattle had the worst air quality in the world, due to the effects of smoke from wildfires.
The big picture: Air quality generally improved nationwide during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because fewer people were driving.
- But as the pandemic ebbs and people's behaviors and activities return to normal, air quality nationally is worsening accordingly.
What's next: The EPA in January proposed reducing its fine particle pollution standard from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to "a level between 9 and 10."
- Public health advocacy groups say the fine particulate standard should be even lower than the EPA's proposed range.
- But industry groups argue that lowering the standard would be overly burdensome.
The bottom line: As the fight over lowering the fine particle standard heats up, the EPA once again finds itself at the heart of the climate change and public health debate.
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