Wildfires have significantly impacted the Seattle-Tacoma area, making the region one of the 10 most polluted areas in the nation, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association.

“People in the Puget Sound area should know that we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by wildfires as a result of climate change, placing our health and even lives at risk,” said Allison Hickey, national executive vice president for the American Lung Association Western Region. “In addition to challenges here, many other areas in Washington have seen worsening air quality. Right now, more than four-in-10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health and people’s lives.”

According to the “State of the Air” 2019 report, the Seattle-Tacoma region’s air quality worsened from 15th most polluted in the country last year to ninth this year for short-term particle pollution, also known as soot.

The annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone or particle pollution, both of which can be deadly. The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the report, many of these spikes in the Seattle-Tacoma area were directly linked to events like wildfires, which are increasing in frequency and intensity in many areas due to climate change. The American Lung Association warned that the problem is likely to continue as temperatures rise and the changing climate potentially stokes more wildfires in the future.

In addition to short-term particle pollution, Seattle-Tacoma jumped from 72nd last year to 35th most polluted area in the nation for ozone pollution. King County dropped from a “C” to an “F” grade and overtook Snohomish County as the most polluted county for annual particle pollution in the metro area, according to the report.

Across the state, Yakima now ranks as the sixth most-polluted area in the country for short-term particle pollution, worse than last year. The Spokane Valley-Coeur d’Alene area was tied for 15th most polluted city in the country for short-term particle pollution and suffered its worst-ever particle pollution in the 20-year history of the report. Conversely, Bellingham ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the nation for both ozone and year-round particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association.

Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and, according to the association, can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Hickey. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

The 10 most polluted cities for Short-term Particle Pollution

  1. Bakersfield, CA
  2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  3. Fairbanks, AK
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  5. Missoula, MT
  6. Yakima
  7. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  8. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, U
  9. Seattle-Tacoma
  10. Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV