11 Washington counties receive ‘F’ grades for air quality

Apr 21, 2023, 2:01 PM

red flag wildfire...

Smoke and haze blankets the Cascades around the base of Mount Rainier on September 21, 2020 in Washington State. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Despite being six months removed from the final month of the fire season in Washington, 11 counties still received an “F” grade when it comes to air quality, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air report, which tracks three data points: Ozone trends, particle pollution trends, and populations at risk.

Clark, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Okanogan, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Stevens, Whatcom, and Yakima Counties all received an F grade in  particle pollution trends,

The American Lung Association reported data on just 12 counties in Washington, with Skagit County being the lone location with an A grade.

“Wildfires in the western U.S. are a major contributing factor to the increasing number of days and places with unhealthy levels of particle pollution,” the report read. “They are also increasing the severity of pollution, resulting in a sharp rise in the number of days designated as either purple or maroon.”

Seattle firefighters respond to encampment fire along I-5 in Beacon Hill

Clark County had the most maroon days, with 5, followed by Yakima (4), Stevens and Spokane (3), Okanogan (2), and Kittitas (1). Maroon days are qualified as having an Air Quality Index of 301-500, the worst air quality rating.

Bellingham broke the trend of poor air quality within the state, as the city was listed as the sixth cleanest U.S. city by year-round particle pollution and tied for first for the cleanest metropolitan areas in the country for ozone.

The State of the Air report was first launched in 2000 to provide the public with easy-to-understand information about the quality of the air in their local communities based on credible data.

The report found nearly 120 million people live in areas with unhealthy air quality nationwide. While people of color make up just 42.2% of the U.S.’s population, more than 64 million (54%) are living in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times more likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three measures.

“The good news is that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. In this year’s ‘State of the Air’ report, we found that 19.3 million fewer people are living in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, also known as smog,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, in a prepared statement. “However, the fact is that 120 million people still live in places with unhealthy air pollution, and not all communities are seeing improvements. This is why it is crucial to continue our efforts to ensure that every person in the U.S. has clean air to breathe.”

Of the near-7.8 million residents who fall under the report’s data in Washington, more than 83,000 were or currently are pregnant.

“Pregnancy is always a susceptible time for both the mother and the developing fetus. The pregnant body undergoes dramatic physiological changes in hormone levels, metabolism, and circulation throughout months of gestation,” the 2023 State of the Air report read.

“The inflammation and oxidative stress resulting from exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can increase the risk of hypertensive disorders, including preeclampsia, in the mother and lead to intrauterine inflammation and damage to the placenta that can disrupt the growth and development of the fetus,” the report continued.

SFD on pace to respond to more than 1,000 encampment fires in 2023

759,000 Washington residents living in poor air quality areas suffer from asthma, including 122,000 being under the age of 18.

Schools are among the most susceptible areas for poor air quality, whether it’s outdoor or indoor (radon, cleaning supplies, household chemicals, and dust,) as they typically have four times as many people indoors as an office building within the same floor space.

In response to the risk, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the American Lung Association, has designed the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program that aims to provide schools with healthy air.

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11 Washington counties receive ‘F’ grades for air quality