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UW study looks at ‘unique’ pollution around Sea-Tac Airport

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SEATTLE -- A new study from the University of Washington is mapping jet pollution around Sea-Tac Airport.

Researchers spent the past two years looking into it and found a unique signature of aircraft pollution.

Edmund Seto is an associate professor and co-principal investigator of the newly released report.

“Specifically about ultra-fine air pollution. These are really small particles that are released by a variety of sources, in particular roadway traffic, and it turns out aircraft also release these very small, ultra-fine particles,” said Seto.

Seto said the team started researching in 2018, collecting air samples 10 miles north and south of Sea-Tac airport’s flight path.

“There’s a lot of communities in South King County that are living near the airport and they’re concerned about aircraft-related environmental impacts,” said Seto.

The study was commissioned by the state.

The information is raising concern and curiosity for locals at Doug Conklin, who knows he can’t see or smell the particles either.

“We live here. We raise our kids here. I’ve got small children,” said Conklin, who spoke with us at a bar called Flight Path in SeaTac. “I mean we’ve got new homeowners buying in the area. We’ve got people who live in the neighborhood forever. I bought in the area. I grew up around here. People should be aware of what they’re exposed to.”

Seto doesn’t want people to be alarmed, and said it’s too early to talk about potential health effects.

“I’d caution people not to be overly concerned and scared about this,” said Seto. “It’s just something that we’re beginning to understand a little bit better. I think more work is definitely needed.”

Seto said they’d like to continue studying air pollution from jets around Sea-Tac Airport to find answers to questions about environmental and health impacts.

Currently, ultra-fine particles are not regulated under clean air laws.

The Port of Seattle, which contributed $75,000 toward the study, said airport officials fully support the study.

"We see as critical to advancing the science needed to understand and reduce fine particulate emissions ...  Many of these fuels, including renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel reduce ultra-fine particulate in addition to greenhouse gases, the pollution that causes global warming.  For this reason, we continue to urge the Washington State Legislature to move quickly towards statewide progressive carbon policy that encourages the adoption of low-carbon transportation fuels," the Port of Seattle's statement said.

You can read the full study here.

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