More than 100 Washington day cares dangerously close to pollution-clogged roadways

Kids 'N Us day care in south Everett borders on an off-ramp of Interstate 5.
Credit: KING 5

It’s a cruel fact of physiology: kids are the hardest-hit victims of air pollution. Pound for pound, children breathe more than adults, receiving a relatively bigger toxic dose delivered to their developing bodies. And the smaller the child, the bigger the impact. What makes an 8-year-old cough could make an infant stop breathing.

That science takes on particular significance in Washington, where 126 day cares are located beside major roads and where rules about where new facilities can open are not enforced. Researchers say air pollution from vehicle traffic can aggravate asthma, reduce lung function and boost school absenteeism, as well as promote cancer later in life and harm developing immune systems.

An additional 439 day cares sit within 500 feet of the state’s heaviest truck routes, a new analysis by InvestigateWest shows. The diesel fuel that powers these trucks can spew 100 to 200 times more soot than gasoline engines, and the exhaust is so toxic that the World Health Organization classifies it as a carcinogen.

Nationally, more than 11 million children under 5 are enrolled in regular child care.  In Washington, one-fourth of all toddlers and one-third of all preschoolers attend a licensed child care facility, according to a 2008 survey.

Joel Kaufman, director of University of Washington’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program, has spent years studying the connection between traffic pollution and cardiovascular disease. He said the Northwest suffers from acutely low awareness of near-road pollution risks.

“We have a perception that air pollution isn’t a problem in this part of the country,” and on a regional scale that is mostly right, he said. “But lots of the places where kids spend their time are in high-pollution areas that aren’t reflected well by monitoring.”

Private fishing rights have 'unintended consequences' in rural Alaska

Kake mayor Henrich Kadake
Credit: Lee van der Voo/InvestigateWest

The third installment in our trilogy of fish stories by Lee van der Voo appears in the Dec. 9 issue of High Country News.

"KAKE, ALASKA — Henrich Kadake remembers when halibut was king in this mostly native outpost on the remote coast of Kupreanof Island, a hundred miles south of Juneau."

So begins Lee van der Voo's newest reporting on federal policies that created private fishing rights for the fisheries in the northern Pacific Ocean two decades ago. Those fishing rights, or quota, have restored the health of the fisheries and created an economic boon for the industry as a whole. Between 1994 and 2008, the last time it was assessed, the value of the halibut catch along Alaska's coast increased from $150 million to $245 million.

But there have been 'unintended consequences,' to use the words of the Pew Environment Group, a supporter of the quota system.

The fishing rights were supposed to stay in villages like Kake, a rural Alaskan outpost built on fishing. Instead, economic hardship and a spike in fuel prices has seen nearly 80 percent of Kake rights-holders sell to fishermen in larger towns and a dwindling local catch. Last year, Kake's share of the halibut catch dwindled to 64,053 pounds, from 277,256 pounds when the program began.

Now that private fishing rights — "catch-share" — have been established in 14 other U.S. fisheries, reformers are trying to blaze a trail of reform by creating nonprofits and setting up investment funds for rural communities. And in Kake, Mayor Kadake is trying to bring the fish back to town.

Read in High Country News (subscription req'd) »

 

Editor's note: Special thanks to the Fund for Investigative Journalism for underwriting the reporting costs for this story.

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InvestigateWest wins 'Special Recognition' from Knight-Risser Prize committee

Huzzah!

Our 2012 collaboration with EarthFix and Oregon Public Broadcasting, "Clean Water: The Next Act" earned a special recognition citation from the Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism committee. The top prize went to the Sacramento Bee for its outstanding reporting on the killing of millions of predators and other animals by a little-known agency inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

From the Knight-Risser website:

The Knight-Risser prize places a premium on stories that expose undiscovered or covered-up problems, explain complex solutions in ways that can be put to use, and help readers understand the broader significance of the issues, beyond the immediate details of the stories at hand.

In announcing the prize, the Knight-Risser judges commended "Clean Water: The Next Act" for its "innovative uses of text, video and audio to give people wide access to information about the state of U.S. rivers, lakes, and bays since passage of the federal Clean Water Act 40 years ago."

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No one-size-fits-all approach as extended foster care grows in Washington

End of the Line is a ongoing series by InvestigateWest asking what happens when teens get too old for foster care in Washington State. Our latest story, a collaboraiton with KUOW, looks at why getting teens enrolled in Washington's new extended foster care program can be tricky.

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KING 5 Investigators: California law a model for Washington

In our continuing Exhausted at School investigation with KING 5, Chris Ingalls visits Todd Beamer High in Federal Way and talks with one of the scientists who helped push for California's more stringent law restricting new school construction near freeways.

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Officials in Olympia, D.C. ducked opportunities to protect students from traffic pollution

Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash.
Credit: KING 5

In spite of the substantial evidence of air-pollution risks to children who attend schools near large roadways — including lung problems, asthma attacks and heightened absenteeism — policymakers at both the state and federal levels ducked the issue in recent years, records and interviews show.

The risks were squarely presented. At about the same time in 2008 and 2009, independent groups of officials meeting in Olympia and Washington, D.C., considered and then rejected the notion of banning or severely restricting construction of schools inside the pollution plume emanating up to 500 feet from major roadways.

That lack of action means schools in Washington and across the country continue to be built near the nation’s biggest and busiest roads, despite compelling evidence that roadway pollution can set kids’ health back for life.

“It’s common sense, you’d think that common sense would prevail,” said Steve Fischbach, a Rhode Island lawyer who advised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the federal process. “But the number of bad examples shows us that poor siting decisions still go on.”

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IW leader named one of Seattle's "most influential" people for 2013

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Each year Seattle Magazine puts together its list of Seattle's "most influential" people, a who's who of innovative thinkers, trendsetters and other influencers in the Emerald City. This year, InvestigateWest executive director and co-founder Robert McClure is on that list.

“Even the folks who have been forced by his stories to clean up their act admit this guy is nothing if not fair,” the magazine writes of McClure, “a modest, Northwest version of Clark Kent in a post-Post-Intelligencer world.”

Under McClure's leadership, InvestigateWest has won 10 awards in 2013 for its investigative and enterprise reporting, including two national industry honors. Its innovative studio model for investigative journalism is being used in classrooms across the country, after the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism published a case study on the Seattle newsroom earlier this year.

“It's great fun to be listed next to Russell Wilson, but most of all I'm glad that InvestigateWest's record of accomplishment is in the pages of Seattle Magazine for the community to see,” McClure said. “Journalism is changing. But the power of journalism to hold people to account,  to connect the dots, and to uncover secrets is needed more than ever.”

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'Exhausted at School' leads to changes at Seattle Schools

We’re happy to report that InvestigateWest’s work alongside KING 5 on our just-released “Exhausted At School” project has prompted action by Seattle School District officials to protect students from the toxic air pollution emanating from traffic along big roads.

District spokesperson Tom Redman said the district just launched a new policy in response to inquiries from InvestigateWest and KING 5 concerning air quality. Principals in the coming year will be sent a daily notice of the regional air quality to help them decide whether its necessary to keep kids inside for recess. In general, air quality reports can indicate high ozone counts, more common on hot days, or higher-than-normal levels of toxic soot from traffic and wood smoke, which hang in the air more on colder days.

The school we focused on in the top of our story, John Marshall Junior High, currently undergoing renovations, is also getting a new look from the Seattle School District. In an email, Redman told KING 5's Chris Ingalls:

“We are looking at our options to install an upgrade to the air filtration system into Phase II of the John Marshall reopening project.  We have time to incorporate this scope of work.  We have asked our Engineer to work up construction estimates and a design modification proposal.”

Watch this space as InvestigateWest and KING 5 continue to follow the story.

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