The Washington Department of Ecology announced this week that it has identified numerous areas across the state – including South King County – to include in a new environmental justice initiative focused on reducing air pollution.

The initiative seeks to reduce pollution from carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution, and sulfur dioxide – substances collectively called “criteria” air pollutants that are known to harm human health and the environment. 

Most of the affected communities in South King County are in the flight path of Sea-Tac Airport.

Under the landmark Climate Commitment Act passed in 2021, Ecology is required to identify areas where people are vulnerable to health and environmental inequities, and are also highly impacted by criteria air pollution. The law directs Ecology to expand air monitoring in these places and develop strategies to reduce the pollution over the coming years. 

“The Climate Commitment Act isn’t just aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions – it seeks to reduce the air pollution that impacts many Washington communities,” said Laura Watson, Ecology’s director. “Building healthier communities in our state begins with identifying the people and places that face the highest levels of these pollutants today, and then expanding our air quality monitoring network in these areas.” 

Ecology identified places highly impacted by criteria air pollution using a combination of existing air quality data, demographic and health data, and input from residents and community organizations. Because of this mix of factors, the areas may overlap typical community boundaries:   

  • South King County
  • South Seattle  
  • Ellensburg 
  • Everett 
  • George and West Grant County 
  • Mattawa 
  • Moxee Valley 
  • Northeast Puyallup 
  • North Seattle and Shoreline 
  • Spokane and Spokane Valley 
  • South and East Tacoma 
  • Tri-Cities to Wallula 
  • Vancouver 
  • Wenatchee and East Wenatchee 
  • East Yakima 
  • Lower Yakima Valley

The places are a mix of urban, suburban, and rural. They range vastly in area from less than 3 square miles to 173 square miles. They also vary greatly by population, from about 1,500 to more than 200,000 people, representing many neighborhoods, communities, and towns. Ecology continues to consult with Tribal governments to determine which Tribal communities should be added to this work. 

While this initiative is aligned to the provisions in the Climate Commitment Act, Ecology continuously works with the EPA, Tribes, and local clean air agencies to monitor and protect air quality for all Washingtonians through many additional core functions and grant programs. 

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