Governor Tours South Park

Researchers and residents talk about health impacts of climate change, traffic-related air pollution

Governor Jay Inslee visited South Park today as part of his Climate Tour, where he met with faculty from our department and representatives from local organizations and community groups. Together, they discussed impacts of traffic-related air pollution and climate change on health, particularly the health of residents who live in communities like South Park which are ethnically diverse and whose income is generally lower than other parts of Seattle.

Traffic-related sources of air pollution contribute to the greenhouse gases that influence global warming. Seattle, although a relatively mild climate, has shown increasing temperatures. Researchers in our department have been involved in studies looking at past and future predicted heat events in King County, as well as other areas of Washington state.

When average county-wide temperatures rise above 82 degrees and humidity makes conditions feel closer to 97 degrees, Chair and Professor Michael Yost said there can be an increase in the risk of hospitalizations and death for those older than 65 years of age as well as those 45 years and older with pre-existing conditions like diabetes.

While Seattle is generally considered to have clean air compared to other cities, said Professor Joel Kaufman, studies show that even here, transportation-related air pollution affects health. A number of studies point to the different health effects from traffic, including asthma in children and heart disease in adults.

One of these studies led by Kaufman and colleagues in the department involved South Park and Georgetown residents. They hosted air monitors at their homes or businesses to measure the diesel-related air pollution in these two neighborhoods.  They found that exposure to different compounds from diesel exhaust that contribute to air pollution can vary, even across small areas. Those residents near busy roads and industrial activity were exposed to higher levels of diesel exhaust, and compared to other neighborhoods in Seattle, these two neighborhoods had higher levels of pollution.

Reducing sources of air pollution could have a win-win effect. The health of residents in communities like South Park and Georgetown would benefit from reduced traffic-related pollution. And reducing fossil fuel burning for transportation would also reduce greenhouse gases and their impacts on the climate here in Seattle and elsewhere.

Governor Jay Inslee announced that he is going to pursue reducing carbon emissions in Washington state by capping the amount on carbon emitted and put a price on those who pollute the air. At the same time, he emphasized that he plans to be mindful of health and economic disparities in rolling out a plan.

DEOHS Faculty Reference