Air Quality

The Air Quality Vital Sign addresses the status of air quality across Puget Sound. A foundation of human wellbeing is breathing fresh air. In the Puget Sound, sources of air quality degradation include vehicle emissions, industrial emissions, and burning wood and debris. Air quality status varies by physical location and across an urban-rural gradient due to weather patterns, topography and pollution sources. Degraded air disproportionately affects young children and elderly as well as those who have respiratory diseases and asthma. Vulnerable communities are often disproportionately exposed to degraded air quality. An estimated 1,100 people die annually in the Puget Sound due to outdoor air pollution.


Key Vital Sign Messages

      Smoke in Aug 2017. From NASA Terra Satellite.
  • Clean air is vital for everyone. The Washington Department of Ecology works in partnership with local clean air agencies and tribes to monitor and track emissions to make sure outdoor air quality meets federal and state standards. Three local clean air agencies manage air quality in Puget Sound.
  • Air pollution impacts both urban and rural communities throughout the Puget Sound area from a broad range of sources, including wildfires, residential wood combustion, traffic and industrial sources.
  • The severity of local and regional wildfires has been the main cause of Puget Sound residents’ exposure to PM2.5 concentrations in recent years. In 2020, all Puget Sound residents were exposed to impaired air quality, with many areas reaching the very unhealthy and hazardous ranges of PM2.5 for several days.
  • Over the past several decades, the planet has increasingly warmed due to climate change, causing more potential for wildfires. With hotter and drier conditions in the years ahead, we expect more wildfires and longer fire seasons. Puget Sound’s air quality and public health will be more at risk.
  • Air toxics are hazardous air pollutants known or suspected to cause a broad range of serious health effects, including cancer. In the Puget Sound area, diesel particulate matter (DPM) accounts for most of the potential cancer risk from all air toxics. This means that communities near major roadways, like the Chinatown-International District in Seattle located along I-5 and I-90, are exposed to higher concentrations of toxics associated with vehicles.

Strategies, Actions, and Effectiveness

  • Ecology works in partnership with local clean air agencies and tribes to make sure we all have clean, healthy air to breathe. Three local clean air agencies manage air quality in Puget Sound. Click here to see a map and find contact information for local clean air agencies.

Other Resources

Contributing Partners

Mary Ramirez and Nathalie Hamel, Vital Signs Reporting Team.
Last Updated