Over the past several weeks, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has been conducting a study of near-road pollution levels in the Chinatown/International District, centered on a new monitoring site at 10th and Weller.
The agency has been using utility poles to mount their instruments. You may have also seen them driving around the neighborhood to gather additional information between the poles.
The International Examiner recently caught up with the agency’s Environmental Justice Coordinator Tania Tam Park to talk about what this means for the community.
International Examiner:Is it correct to say that air quality is not usually a primary concern for neighborhoods like the International District? Why is that and what has the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency been doing to reach out?
Tania Tam Park: We recognize that the Chinatown/International District, like other urban areas, may have plenty of other important concerns beyond air quality like economic vitality, affordable housing, or safety. However, we still want the community to be informed that there may be some risk to living near busy roads and help figure out how we can minimize those impacts.
The Clean Air Agency is just starting to scratch the surface. We’ve already met with community members from the International Examiner, SCIDpda, the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, Asian Resource Center, and International Community Health Services, to name a few. We’ll continue to share information and explore opportunities for dialogue with the neighborhood over the coming months and years as there are many organizations and businesses in the area whose clients, patients, and patrons may be impacted by poor air quality.
IE: What does the International District community need to know about the potential effects of living beside the I-5 freeway? Who is at most risk?
Park: There are a number of recent studies that show living near a freeway can increase health risks for sensitive populations like children, the elderly, expectant mothers, and those with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma. Some of the increased health risks include development of breathing disorders and heart-related problems, like stroke and heart attacks. We’ve also found several studies that also link road pollution to increased risks to expectant mothers and to the fetus, including early births and low birth weights.
Health risks can have far-reaching effects on our families and loved ones. I know that if I had an asthmatic child, for instance, it would be difficult to handle the bills that come from medical and emergency care over a long period of time. Visits to the hospital also take time away from the classroom, making it hard for children to keep up with their other classmates. As a parent, I would also need to take time away from work to care for my child, but how much “sick leave” can I afford?
IE: You mentioned that there is potential for the International District neighborhood to work closely with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency in the future and that the community may reach a point where they are able to monitor their own air quality. What are the next steps toward this?
Park: Our goal is to develop long-lasting, dynamic relationships with residents in the neighborhood. With each new study we do, we learn more about how to capture air quality information more efficiently. Although it may be a few years away, the technology is improving rapidly, increasing the possibility of the community collecting and sharing its own air quality data.
As we share information about emerging air quality technologies and initial study results, we are interested in exploring ways the community could access and use air quality information and ways to discuss issues related to pollution with community residents.
IE: Is there anything else you think the community needs to know?
We hope that this study becomes the start of a long-term and meaningful dialogue with the Chinatown/International District neighborhood. In fact, we will need to rely on the observations of actual residents and businesses to verify what we “see” in the data.
You may notice our staff driving around the neighborhood in Agency vehicles, so please feel free to stop us, drop us a line, and ask questions or raise concerns. I can be reached at [email protected]. You can also check out our website to find the latest air quality forecast and current air quality at www.pscleanair.org.