WA State Airport Community Air Quality Study

Sea-Tac airplane. Photo by Paul B. https://flic.kr/p/d8Er5u

As the population has grown in Seattle, so too has air traffic at the Sea-Tac International Airport.  According to the Port of Seattle’s statistics for 2016, over 45 million passengers traveled through Sea-Tac. These numbers are up 52% over historical passenger numbers from just 10 years ago.

Increasing air traffic has long been a concerned of residents in neighboring communities.  In particular, residents have been alarmed by the findings of recent studies conducted in other airport communities around the country that have documented elevated ultrafine PM levels along the flight paths near airports, such as LAX.  Yet, because no two airports are the same with respect to how planes land and take-off, the numbers of aircraft that fly in and out, meteorological conditions, local terrain, background air pollution levels, and where people live in relationship to flight paths, extrapolating from others studies to the Seattle context is challenging.

To address this concern and to provide much needed local data, over the next two years, the University of Washington will measure ultrafine PM concentrations in communities within a 10-mile region north and south of Sea-Tac.  The goal of this study will be to identify the extent to which ultrafine PM levels are elevated above background levels of PM.  This includes trying to differentiate aircraft-related PM from the other predominant sources of PM in the area, which include roadway traffic and wood smoke.

Measurements will be collected using a state-of-the-art mobile monitoring platform — a University of Washington car outfitted with high-end air monitoring instruments that can measure the size distribution and counts of ultrafine particles.  This vehicle will traverse the study area throughout the year, allowing the research team to map ultrafine PM levels, and relate the air pollution to varying amounts of air traffic and other factors that may affect ultrafine PM concentrations.

Identifying whether elevated ultrafine PM levels exist in communities around Sea-Tac airport is the first phase of a potentially broader investigation of exposures to aircraft-related pollution and its health effects.  A final report documenting this first phase will be delivered in December 2019.

To learn more about this study, feel free to contact the study leads:

Professor Edmund Seto, eseto@uw.edu
Professor Timothy Larson, tlarson@uw.edu

Historical Sea-Tac Passenger Volumes. https://public.tableau.com/profile/portofseattlebi#!/vizhome/Sea-TacAirportActivityReportTP/Cover

Update 9/28/2017:  A resident near the airport emailed me, noting that while passenger volume has trended up, flight operations peaked in 2000.  If you’d like to explore the data, they are available at: https://public.tableau.com/profile/portofseattlebi#!/vizhome/Sea-TacAirportActivityReportTP/Cover