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State agency releases troubling new findings about pollution in its communities — here's who it hits the hardest

The data underscores the health consequences that arise from exposure to air pollution.

The data underscores the health consequences that arise from exposure to air pollution.

Photo Credit: iStock

New data reveals that 16 overburdened areas in the state of Washington have a higher death rate from air pollution compared to the state average.

What happened?

The report is the first set of data under the Climate Commitment Act that will comprise a long-term series tracking the state's progress in reducing air pollution and improving health in the 16 identified communities. Researchers reviewed and compiled information from Washington's air monitoring network, the Washington State Department of Health, industry greenhouse gas reports, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

After analyzing data from 2016 to 2020, the Washington State Department of Ecology found that individuals of all ages from the 16 communities lived 2.4 fewer years than people in the rest of Washington. The report also indicated that older adults living in those areas were twice as likely to die of complications from breathing in fine particles, or PM2.5.

"The findings in this report underscore the importance of the strong air quality and environmental justice provision contained in the Climate Commitment Act," said Department of Ecology director Laura Watson. "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."

Why is air pollution data concerning?

The data underscores the health consequences that arise from exposure to air pollution. In the 16 communities, individuals had a higher rate of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. 

Along with the severe health risks, the report also highlighted the impact of air pollution on the environment. Pollutants from dirty energy enter the atmosphere, contributing to the planet's rising temperatures

What's being done about air pollution in vulnerable areas?

The state's Climate Commitment Act is a milestone for tracking and addressing air pollution throughout Washington. Collecting data for the long-term study is the first step in identifying vulnerable areas and revealing the impact of air pollution exposure. 

The researchers from the Department of Ecology are teaming up with locals from the 16 communities to identify areas of concern and expand the statewide air monitoring network

The Climate Commitment Act also includes a new $10 million grant program designed to help the communities and environmental justice representatives remediate local air pollution. The Department of Ecology is also working with local governments and agencies to develop and implement stricter air quality control guidelines. 

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