Asia's air pollution dousing western United States while ours is jet-streamed to Europe
February 24, 2010
We've been hearing for some time about the airborne transport of air pollutants from Asia -- particularly fast-developing China -- to the western United States. A new study reveals that the pollution, already shown to be arriving in sufficient quantities to undercut U.S. efforts to reduce air quality, is on the upswing.
Not only that, but the eastern United States' airborne gunk is making its way to Asia. And apparently Asia is looking nervously over its shoulder at emissions coming from Europe.
Based on some 100,000 pollution measurements over a quarter century, the new study published Jan. 21 in the journal Nature specifically points to Asia's contribution to ozone pollution affecting those of us living along the Left Coast and in the Rocky Mountain states.
Study co-author Dan Jaffe of the University of Washington-Bothell has been studying the bad Asian air for years, slowly building a case that it has effects right here in Rain City as well as across the West. I caught up with him this afternoon, and he explained the significance of the new research:
This is the first time anyone’s been able to quantitatively identify that the amount of ozone coming from Asia is increasing. We’ve seen ozone many, many times, but we’ve never had a long enough or complete enough record to measure an increase.
In earlier efforts, scientists looked for Asian ozone going up, but failed to pinpoint a statistically significant increase.
But China's massive air pollution problems are no secret, and Jaffe acknowledged:
Given what’s happening in China, this is not a shocking result.
Still, if you want to solve a problem, you first have to document it.
One long-documented problem the new study brought to mind is PCBs in Puget Sound. We know PCBs are still used in Asia, and that Puget Sound has long been plagued by PCB contamination that started around the time of World War II. I also know that some scientists studying Puget Sound a few years ago concluded -- based on some fairly back-of-the-envelope calculations, as I recall -- that the contribution of airborne PCBs from Asia was probably not a big very factor as far as PCBs in Puget Sound are concerned. Keep working on digging out the stuff buried in the bottom of the Sound, they advised.
Now, PCBs are not something Jaffe's studies have covered. But he does keep up on work in that area and he thinks concentrating on the high levels of PCBs in the sediments instead of small concentrations wafting over from Asia is a sound approach for the Sound.
-- Robert McClure
Wealth & Poverty | December 2013
It's the unexpected catch in catch-share programs: A federal program that was supposed to help preserve and enhance the fishing economy in Kake, Alaska, has instead helped cause a severe decline. Meanwhile, 50 miles southeast, the town of Petersburg is booming.
The third part in our trilogy of fish stories examines the consequences catch-share policy where it was born, even as the model has been established in 14 other U.S. fisheries, encompassing dozens of species ranging from New England scallops to Pacific sole.
Foster Care | November 2013
State law now allows more kids to stay in foster care for an extra three years — until age 21. But many either refuse the help, or fail to qualify for it.
An investigation by KUOW in collaboration with InvestigateWest looks at why this transition to adulthood is trickier than expected – for foster kids, and for the state.
Public Health | September 2013
Of the roughly 50,000 kids who will attend Seattle schools this fall, nearly 2,000 will hit the books in classrooms within 500 feet of Interstate 5, InvestigateWest has found. This despite a body of evidence dating back decades that highway air pollution can cause lifelong respiratory problems and asthma attacks and boost school absenteeism.
From Seattle to Spokane, what can be done to make sure schools are healthy places for kids?
Photo: John Marshall JHS, 1963. SPSA 108-97.
Public Health | July 2013
Memory loss is one of the symptoms of dementia. So is wandering. Over the last five years, at least 10 people in Washington state have died after wandering away from where they live. It’s a problem that communities will have to confront as the population ages. But not all police departments are prepared for these kinds of incidents.
Wealth & Poverty | June 2013
Six nonprofit groups arose on the Bering Sea shore, and they have invested mightily in ships, real estate and processing plants. Over two decades, the groups amassed a combined net worth of $785 million," write Lee van der Voo and The New York Times' Kirk Johnson.
But the results on the ground, in rural community and economic development, have been deeply uneven, and nonexistent for many people who still gaze out to the blinking lights of the factory ships and wonder what happened. Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Public Health | March 2013
As Washington state was on the cusp of finalizing new, stronger water pollution limits, Boeing and its allies intervened, all the way up Gov. Gregoire herself. Using newly released public records, InvestigateWest uncovers how business interests and their allies trumped the health of sport fishermen, tribes, and everyone else who reels in dinner from local waterways.
Wealth & Poverty | February 2013
“It was just common knowledge – when you turn 18, you’re done,” Sharayah Lane said. “After the checks stopped coming, we all went our separate ways."
End of the Line is a new series by Claudia Rowe asking what happens when teens get too old for foster care in Washington State.
Photo Credit: Jon Connell/Flickr