Sustainable Communities

Mapping Washington’s environmental health disparities

It was at the height of California’s worst drought on record that Esther Min saw for herself the power of data to help low-income families.

“People’s water bills were skyrocketing, wells were drying up, families were driving miles away to buy bottled water,” said Min, who was working on a water-access study in the Salinas Valley in 2014.

“I saw how we could partner with communities to gather data they could use to get the attention of policymakers,” said Min, now a PhD student in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS).

The more you know

I recently found leftovers in my fridge that were close to a week old—right on the line between acceptable and sketchy. I performed the tried-and-true smell test, made a judgment and popped them in the microwave. 

The broccoli tasted fine, the rice was a little dry. All was going well until my mind wandered to a recent lecture on foodborne pathogens in my environmental microbiology course.

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.

Go play outside

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health watched 225 Seattle residents during their visits to public parks—through GPS devices, activity trackers and travel diaries—and found that they were active for longer at parks that had a greater variety of recreational facilities.

The study, published online Sept. 19 in the Journal of Urban Health, suggests that adding facilities to existing parks could be a cost-effective way to increase bouts of physical activity that occur there.

A gift for the future

We live in an environment that Bruce Fowler calls “chemical-rich.”

Our exposure to chemicals found in air pollution, pesticides, lead and other sources begins before we are born and continues throughout our lives. Nearly 1 in 4 global deaths are the result of living or working in an unhealthy environment, according to World Health Organization estimates.

Yet the specific health effects of our exposure to all those chemicals remain largely unknown.

Nothing about us without us

There is a hidden cost to the fresh fruits and vegetables you buy at your local market.

The estimated 2.5 million US farmworkers who harvest that produce are among America’s most vulnerable workers. They face environmental hazards on the job and in their housing and limited access to health care. Too often, they live on the margins of society without a voice to shape decision-making and policies that could improve their lives.

Who is hurt the most by climate change?

Climate change in Washington state affects us all—but not all of us in the same way.

Your job, your zip code and your race are more likely to determine your level of risk from climate change than the frequency or magnitude of events associated with climate change like heat waves, wildfires and drought.

That’s the finding from a recently released report, An unfair share: Exploring the disproportionate risks from climate change facing Washington state communities.