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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Clean air

Clean air Good air quality is key to promoting respiratory health both outdoors and indoors, where we live and work, for our overall quality of life and to foster Healthy Communities. The main sources of air pollution are area sources (dry cleaners, lawn mowers, etc.), mobile sources (cars, trucks, off-road equipment), and stationary sources (factories, power plants, etc.). These different sources produce different types of pollutants that can cause problems for respiratory health, cardiovascular health, and cancer treatment. Locating sensitive land uses in close proximity to polluting facilities or major roadways can raise health concerns for sensitive populations. Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can significantly affect people's health, but levels of air pollutants indoors may be greater than outdoors.
  • Health risks of poor air
    Exposure to air pollutants is associated with a wide range of health problems – from throat irritation and respiratory ailments, to heart disease and cancer. These effects are often greater among sensitive populations, including children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

  • Benefits of trees
    Trees lower the heat in individual dwellings as well as the heat island affect of cities and help ameliorate high ambient temperatures through the shade they provide. Excess heat in summer can cause heat stroke and death. Trees are also a critical element of the pedestrian environment because they make a streetscape interesting and comfortable for pedestrians, which are two factors that make walking a desirable form of transportation and recreation.

    Trees sequester carbon. A recent global warming study by the University of Washington predicted up to 96 excess deaths in 2025 in Seattle alone. Global warming is caused by excess carbon in the environment.

    Trees are part of the stormwater retention system. Without trees, stormwater flows reach high peaks rapidly and can cause urban flooding which has taken a life and untold property in King County.

    Trees enhance the quality of life in communities by providing gathering places, supporting urban wildlife and beautification. For the preceding reasons and others, 40% tree coverage is recommended for urban areas by the American Forestry Association.

    We recommend that trees be both planted and retained because of their linkages to community and environmental health and Seattle's Urban Forest Management Plan.

What you can do

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Instead...use public transportation, telecommute to work, walk or bike to work, walk to do errands, carpool with neighbors or co-workers and consolidate trips. See what others are doing.

What Public Health is doing:
  • Collaboration with other agencies
    Public Health does not have regulatory authority to directly address outdoor air pollution issues, but works collaboratively with the Environmental Protection Agency, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and the Washington Department of Health on air quality concerns.

  • Determining the quality of indoor air
    Public Health provides information on sources of poor indoor air quality and ways to improve this in your home.

  • Asthma facts, guidelines and educational materials
    Public Health works with community partners to help children with asthma get the health care and resources they need and improve indoor living conditions and outdoor air quality so children with asthma have fewer problems with their asthma.

  • HomeBASE
    A research project funded by National Institutes of Health to assess the value of home-based education and support intervention for reducing asthma mortality and urgent health service utilization among low-income and ethnically diverse adults with asthma, ages 18-65 years in King County.
Local resources:
  • King County DataWatch asthma report
    Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness and accounts for large numbers of missed school and work days for children and their caregivers.

  • Seattle's Urban Forest Management Plan
    This plan provides a long term vision for increasing tree canopy cover (the percent of the city covered by trees as seen in an aerial view) and the myriad environmental, social, and economic benefits associated with trees in urban areas.

  • City of Seattle, ReLeaf Program
    Trees add much more to an urban landscape than a spot of green on the horizon. Healthy, mature tree canopy positively affects issues ranging from health to economic development and sense of community. Urban trees have equally important impacts on the environment.

  • Puget Sound Clean Air Agency
    Regional agency working with state and local partners to clean the air we breathe and protect the climate through education, incentives and enforcement.

  • HealthScape
    A King County effort to promote public health by improving how communities are built. It builds on the work begun with the LUTAQH (Land Use, Transportation, Air Quality and Health) study.

  • Washington State Department of Ecology on Air
    One of the challenges in protecting air quality is that air is invisible. Therefore, air is one of those things often taken for granted. Pollutants in the air from activities such as driving motor vehicles and burning make the air unhealthy to breathe even when it looks clean.
National resources: Selected articles:
  • Multiple pathways from land use to health: Walkability associations with active transportation, body mass index, and air quality. Frank L, Sallis J, Conway T, Chapman J, Saelens B, & Bachman W. J Am Planning Association 2006, 72(1), 75-87.

  • Final report: Puget Sound air toxics evaluation (PDF). Puget Sound Clean Air Agency 2003.
    The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency conducted this screening study to identify chemicals and emission sources that pose the greatest potential health risks to citizens in the Puget Sound region.