Clean Air

Changing the rules on toxic emissions

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to change how it tallies up the costs and benefits of rules limiting mercury emissions—a move two University of Washington experts say would make it harder to protect people from the harmful health effects of air pollution. 
It’s a new front in the two-decade-long battle to regulate toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

A matter of scientific integrity

A group of 15 air pollution experts—including three scientists from the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS)—say recent changes made by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have damaged the quality and credibility of the EPA’s scientific review process for federal clean air standards.

Clearing the air

As Central Washington became choked with wildfire smoke last summer, Dr. Mark Larson grew so concerned about air quality measures in Kittitas County that he couldn’t sleep for 10 days.

As the health officer for Kittitas County, Larson felt it was his duty to recommend canceling outdoor activities. But as a 20-year community resident, he also knew that the Kittitas Rodeo was right around the corner—a nationally known event that can bring in more than $8 million to the local economy in a single weekend.

Let's talk about wildfire smoke and your health

[Reprinted with permission from the new 2018 edition of Northwest Public Health magazine.] 

For the past two summers, the western part of the United States has experienced extraordinary wildfire seasons.

Dominated by longer burns, fires in locations not previously thought to be at risk, and significant smoke in dense urban areas, these events were a wake-up call to communities with little or no experience dealing with them.

A splash of color in a smoke-choked summer

The Pacific Northwest’s “new normal” is starting to feel like old normal in Washington’s Methow Valley.

This is the fifth summer in a row that wildfire season has hit the Methow Valley especially hard, causing hazardous smoke conditions that persist for weeks and leaving residents feeling trapped and isolated.

Cooped up inside, valley residents can get a little stir-crazy as they watch summer drift by in a haze. The alternative—wearing a mask to go outside—only adds to the sense of apocalypse.

“Their voices can be quite powerful”

At the Western Hemisphere’s busiest land border crossing, tens of thousands of vehicles wait each day, engines idling, to cross between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.

Researchers know that the 30,000 residents of San Ysidro, on the US side of the crossing, live with spikes in air pollution, higher levels of asthma and other negative effects from those car emissions.

But what’s happening just across the border in Tijuana, one of Mexico’s largest cities?

Biking in dirty air

I see toxic chemicals everywhere.

It’s an occupational hazard for me as a toxicology PhD student in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. I spend my days learning and writing about all things environmental health, so naturally, I’m worried about my own exposures to the pollutants around us.

Standing up for science

Lianne Sheppard imagined a career in service to both science and the public good when she joined the UW faculty 24 years ago.

She never anticipated that one day, she would have to choose between them.

Sheppard is professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and biostatistics, and assistant chair of the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS).