Opinion: Clean air everywhere, for everyone in Washington

Recently, legislative debates turned from carbon pricing to the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL) uplifting environmental justice (EJ). This is important legislation, but what we really need are bold solutions and different laws addressing a persistent form of unjust and ongoing pollution. Air toxic exposure disparities and their impacts on communities like the Duwamish Valley are still being ignored by politicians and industry. This inattention continues even as new research suggests that higher air pollution may increase COVID-19 vulnerability and deaths.

Many environmentalists in our region not only overlook decades of toxic air pollution injustice, some even gloss over the problem. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Seattle office announced that industrial toxic releases declined in the Northwest. Pollution dropped 12% in 2019 for 752 facilities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. They further asserted “that U.S. companies that use and manage chemicals and metals continue to make progress in preventing pollution.” 

But we knew that regional averages likely obscured trends in our heavily polluted Duwamish River Valley neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park — often first documented by our community. EPA analysts lumped air, water, and land pollution together. When viewed separately, air and water pollution went up in the Northwest. Surface-water discharges increased by 1.17 million pounds and air pollution by 610 thousand pounds between 2018 and 2019.