Lawsuit against Port of Seattle, Alaska, Delta alleges toxic pollutants

Apr 20, 2023, 10:05 AM | Updated: 11:18 am

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

(Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

A Seattle firm is taking on Sea-Tac airport and two airlines for allegedly spewing toxic pollutants in a class action lawsuit on behalf of nearby communities.

Lawyers with Hagens Berman claim that exhaust chemicals from jets have polluted a huge part of King County, sickening the people who live there. The chemical exposures that the firm is alleging include carbon monoxide, lead, and particulate matter in what attorneys are calling the “Contamination Zone” around Sea-Tac Airport.

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The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of the nearly 300,000 people, including more than 60,000 children, who live in a five-square-mile radius of the airport, which includes parts or all of Burien, Des Moines, SeaTac, and Tukwila.

It cites health studies done by the University of Washington and the King County Health Department, which says that people experiencing long-term exposure to these chemicals experience higher rates of cancer, heart disease, shorter life expectancy, and chronic lower respiratory disease.

According to the suit, planes taking off and landing at Sea-Tac Airport spew pollutants like formaldehyde and acrolein into the atmosphere. Other issues, like particulate matter containing toxic chemicals, have also been shown to flake off airplanes during flight, with heavy metals like lead, barium, and cadmium.

Studies of other international airports have yielded evidence of high concentrations of heavy metals in the surrounding soil, and attorneys say it is likely that the soil around Sea-Tac Airport is similarly tainted.

“Our local communities deserve to breathe clean air and to know that their homes and schools are free from dangerous pollutants. At this juncture, given the refusal to deal with the issue by the Port and the airlines, we believe this lawsuit is the only way to secure that future,” said Steve Berman.

The lawsuit also alleges that this pollution is more likely to impact vulnerable and minority communities, with residents of the Contamination Zone more likely to be immigrants than residents of surrounding areas, and the majority are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. More than 30% of Zone residents have total household incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level.

One of the named plaintiffs in the case, Michelle Geer, lived within the Contamination Zone for many years, in a home that she and her husband could feel shake every time a plane passed overhead. Geer was living in this home when she became pregnant with her first child, the lawsuit states.

On Thanksgiving morning in 1994, Geer’s four-year-old daughter, who had been born with a hearing impairment, began walking at a strange angle. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away a few weeks after her fifth birthday.

Geer believes that exposure to airport pollution during her pregnancy may have contributed to her daughter’s hearing impairment and cancer which ultimately took her life, according to the complaint.

The firm is also suing Alaska and Delta Airlines — along with the Port of Seattle — because those carriers represent 85% of take-offs and landings at Sea-Tac.

Port of Seattle declined to comment on the claims, but it says the airport and its resident airlines “go above and beyond” already-strict environmental regulations.

KIRO Newsradio has reached out to Alaska and Delta Airlines but has not heard back.

In addition to a public health issue, the lawsuit brings claims of negligence, continuing intentional trespass, and violation of inverse condemnation laws against the Port.

The suit seeks to hold the defendants accountable for funding the cleanup of the area, compensating residents for the loss of use and enjoyment of their property, and establishing a medical monitoring fund.

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Lawsuit against Port of Seattle, Alaska, Delta alleges toxic pollutants