Is Seattle Air Quality Good or Bad?

The article talks about air quality in Seattle, sources of pollution, next steps, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality in Seattle. 

Does Seattle have good air quality?

Yes, as of 02 December 2021, Seattle has a US AQI of 7 (IQAir, 2021) and air quality is considered to be at a good level, keeping it under the global standards set up by WHO. The main pollutant in the area is PM2.5 and PM10, yet it is under the recommended levels and therefore not hazardous to citizens in the area. There are no limitations or measures set in place, and citizens are free to move outside their homes and workspaces and presume their outdoor activities. 

About Seattle

Seattle is the largest city in Washington with an area of 367.97 sq. km. An estimated count in 2019 showed that there are 753,675 citizens in Seattle (USCB, 2019). It has a growth rate of ~23% between 2010 and 2020, making it the 15th most populated city in the country, and is considered to be a rapidly-developing community. 

Seattle has a rich history and is considered a commercial aircraft manufacturing hub, IT center, and shipbuilding center. The city has developed technology centers from the early 1980s onwards with the setting up of Microsoft, the founding of Amazon, to headquarters of Alaska Airlines. The continuous streams of revenue, new technology, and internet companies skyrocketed the city’s expansion and development brought the city to life through rapid urbanization and growth. 

About Seattle Air Quality

Historically, Seattle has had good air quality despite fluctuations in between. These fluctuations though rare, often reach categorized unhealthy levels of air pollution due to the increased levels of particulate matter pollution in the city. On average, IQAir reports that Seattle has at least 14.2 days of unhealthy air quality every year, and this can be divided as 7 due to high levels of ozone pollution and 7.2 due to high levels of particulate matter pollution. 

Recommended US EPA levels for the number of unhealthy air quality days per year due to specific contaminants is 3.2 days. Therefore, it is obvious that while Seattle does perform considerably better in comparison to other US cities, it still doesn’t follow the recommended levels. While 14.2 days in a year is just approximately 4% in a year, the increasing number has been a reason of concern amongst citizens and state actors alike, as this could be attributed to the rapid development of the city causing increased emissions and thus increased pollution levels. 

Following these increasing trends of unhealthy air quality, Seattle authorities have been strictly enforcing new programs and frameworks to efficiently and consistently monitor air quality in the city as well as put into place new frameworks for environmental health programs. These programs have been designed to meet the specific needs of the city as development, exponential population growth, setting up or expansion of new industries, construction, etc. takes specific tolls on the city and thus requires specialized solutions to meet the demands that come along in addressing these hazards. 

While US EPA suggests that an increase in population may not necessarily cause poor air quality, it’s the consumption and behavioral patterns from the population that instigates and exaggerate the implications of poor air quality. EPA and other state actors recognize that there need to be immediate changes including shifting to cleaner energy, using energy-efficient sources and equipment, low-emission vehicles, natural resource management to avoid wildfires or other environmental disasters, curbing stationary and secondary sources of emissions, setting up strict regulatory frameworks and authorities to monitor the activities, etc. amongst many more necessary steps to work towards having cleaner and healthier air. 

Seattle Air Pollution Mitigation

Seattle air pollution can be attributed to daily vehicular emissions, constantly shifting weather patterns, and pollution events accelerated by heat waves. While most of these factors are not controllable, it is within the power of citizens and state actors to make the necessary changes to patterns that can reduce the impacts of these elements on pollution. 

In Seattle emphasis on mitigation efforts lies in reducing emissions from mobile sources such as vehicles and larger industrial operations. These are the sources that are majorly responsible for the pollutants that are present in the air, though in lower quantities in comparison to other cities such as Fresno or LA. With the introduction of electric vehicles and other innovative development technologies, the city aims to integrate these solutions into the city’s developmental frameworks for the future. For example, Seattle aims to integrate electric vehicles by atleast 30% into the common market by 2030; and this is aimed at citizens who will own these private vehicles. Furthermore, various regions including King’s county are taking measures to move into electric public transit systems by adopting approximately 1,400 electric buses by 2040. Other changes include changing the ferries to electrically-powered vessels, removing heavy-duty polluters such as diesel-powered trucks, etc. 

While Seattle has taken good efforts to reduce the levels of toxic pollutants in the air, various studies conducted by WHO have shown that even the smallest exposure to particulate matter pollution and ozone pollution has health impacts: short-term or chronic. Therefore, measures taken in Seattle would have to focus on being sustainable, durable, and being able to completely phase out the usage and emissions of these toxic substances. Even with the lower rates of pollution in the city, citizens have faced adverse health impacts including an ever-increasing rise in the number of cancer patients and respiratory issues (IQAir, 2021)

While Seattle has really good air quality in comparison to other cities in the country, below are the top 10 regions in Seattle with higher numbers in the US AQI. It must be observed that all values in the top 10 still fall under the “healthy” category of air quality. 

#Monitoring StationUS AQI
1Seattle Duwamish Valley29
2Seattle – South Park20
326th & Mercer18
440th & Fauntleroy16
545th Avenue Southwest16
6Fairmont Park – Fauntleroy13
77308 28th Avenue Southwest12
8Southwest Holden & Highland Park Way12
9Seattle 10th & Weller12
101822 North 57th Street11

Source: IQAir (December 02, 2021) 

Some measures that could be taken would be as follows:

  • Encouraging citizens to make the switch to electric vehicles as studies have shown that partially reducing vehicular emissions does not have enough impact, and to completely get rid of the nitrogen oxide pollutants, we need to completely make the shift to electric vehicle systems.
  • Provide subsidies and tax cut-offs to larger polluters to switch to cleaner sources of fuel.
  • Enforce the polluter pays principle where the largest contributors to the air quality are fined for its destructive practices. 
  • Planting more trees in an effort to create a carbon sink to reduce the temperatures in the area. 
  • Take large-scale climate actions to address the community’s needs and meet global commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 
  • Reduce the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from all sources, regardless of the size or the degree of impact. This could mean that the city could ban the usage of high VOC paints, chemicals, cleaning solutions, hairsprays, air fresheners, chemical solvents, etc. This would be key to ensuring that ozone levels are below the recommended levels. 
  • Reduce emissions from industries and other primary small-scale sources such as incinerators or burning of raw fuel sources and waste. 
  • Enforce strict health standards and air quality regulations on relevant stakeholders, and ensure there is increased accountability between them through efficient and continuous monitoring and evaluation of these standards.
  • Conduct effective and periodical monitoring of the programs implemented to ensure that they are relevant to the circumstances at hand and that they can be modified to meet the demands at the time. 
  • Increase participation and accountability between stakeholders at all levels and beneficiaries to ensure that a participatory approach is used to address community issues and that it is inculcated into any strategy that may be implemented. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is the air quality in Seattle good or bad?

Does having good outdoor air quality levels mean there is good indoor air quality?

Having good outdoor air quality levels does not necessarily mean the indoor air quality levels are good as well. The sources of pollution for indoor and outdoor air quality differ. However, it is likely that with good ventilation and adequate protective measures taken, like installing an air purifier, clean and efficient ventilation systems, etc. that the indoor air quality may not be bad. It is always best to keep monitoring your indoor air quality levels to ensure proper levels at all times, and to ensure that there is no contamination from a particular pollutant. 

Where can I check daily air quality forecasts for Seattle, Washington?

BreezoMeter provides an air quality map that allows you to check the air quality forecasts as well as allergen forecasts every day for any city of your choosing. The above link will take you to the air quality in Seattle at the present moment, and you can search any other city or country of your choice to check the forecasts, as Breezometer provides its services for > 93 countries. 

For quick and easier access, BreezoMeter also provides a mobile app that is easy and convenient to use. It will show you the hourly air quality standards, as well as show the measures you may need to take to protect yourself in case of poor air quality. It is a handy app to have on your mobile device as it would help reduce the chronic impacts of long-term exposure to poor air quality. 

Does wildfire smoke constitute a health hazard in terms of air quality and physical health?

Yes, smoke from wildfires has been an increasing recurring hazard to air quality levels and has thus contributed to several days of unhealthy air quality levels. During these days it is suggested that citizens remain indoors and take preventative measures such as running an air purifier, avoiding outdoor exposure, wearing masks and other protective devices, etc. to reduce the chronic health implications from exposure to airborne contaminants. 

The threat of wildfire smoke and its implications is exaggerated due to the COVID-19. Smoke is an additional risk for people with COVID-19 and other vulnerable populations such as previously diagnosed chronically ill patients, kids, individuals with respiratory issues, etc. that worsens symptoms. So while wildfire smoke may seem like a less pressing threat in light of the global pandemic, COVID-19 in combination with environmental hazards around the area, gives the city and its citizens even more reason to be prepared.  

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Air Quality in China: Good or bad?

Is the air cleaner after rain?

Is air quality better in the morning?

References 

IQAir. (2021). Air Quality in Seattle. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.iqair.com/usa/washington/seattle  

IQAir. (2021, December 02). Live Seattle AQI Ranking. Real-time Seattle air quality ranking. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.iqair.com/usa/washington/seattle  

Office of the Mayor, Seattle. (n.d.). Smoke Ready Seattle. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.seattle.gov/mayor/wildfire-smoke 

United States Census Board (USCB). (2019). QuickFacts – Seattle City, Washington. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/seattlecitywashington  

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