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In Seattle’s polluted valley, pandemic and particulates are twin threats

Published on May 21, 2020

Duwamish River valley, Seattle, WA. June 2012.
Duwamish River valley, Seattle, WA. June 2012. Image Credit: brewbooks. CC BY-SA 2.0

From a boat on the Duwamish River, it’s easy to see giant yellow excavators plucking crushed cars off the ground and swinging them toward an open-air shredder.

At Seattle Iron and Metal, mounds of shredded steel as big as apartment buildings loom above the river.

“It looks like something out of Mad Max,” James Rasmussen told a group of visiting scientists on board the Admiral Pete in November.

The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition activist and former Duwamish Tribal Council member was serving as a tour guide for Superfund researchers learning about the polluted waterway and the businesses lining its banks.

After many decades of heavy industry, the last five miles of Seattle’s only river is a Superfund site – a federal priority for hazardous-waste cleanup.

For the Duwamish Valley community, which has twice the poverty rate of Seattle and is mostly people of color, the top air concern is the tiny particulates known as PM 2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns wide).

People with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19. Chronic air pollution can worsen those chronic diseases.

How much worse can be hard to tease out, since communities with dirtier air often have lots of other problems, too.

Physician and epidemiologist Joel Kaufman at the University of Washington cautioned that it’s still “early days” in understanding the spread of COVID-19.

“The science is going to get a lot better as time goes on,” said Kaufman, who studies the connections between disease and air pollution.

“In general, it’s true that lower socioeconomic areas, areas of more poverty and more disadvantage have shorter life expectancy, higher rates of chronic diseases and higher rates of things like childhood asthma,” he said.


Continue reading at KUOW.

Originally written by John Ryan for KUOW.
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