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Airport Operations and Public Health

The University of Washington has conducted several studies to deepen understanding of the impact of air pollution caused by airport operations and ways to address the human health impact. Studies were conducted with financial support from the Washington State Legislature, with contributions from the Port of Seattle, the City of Burien, and other cities surrounding Sea-Tac International Airport.

The Burien City Council heard a presentation from Dr. Kris Johnson, PhD, a public health researcher with Public Health—Seattle and King County, on results from a series of University of Washington studies about the human health impacts of exposure to air and noise pollution from airport operations. The studies show that that communities within a ten-mile radius of an airport experience worse health outcomes including respiratory problems, heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic issues, and reproductive health concerns. Existing health disparities due to income and access to health care make communities more vulnerable to the health impacts of pollution. One study shows housing discrimination practices dating from the 1930s still drive air pollution disparities in hundreds of American cities today.

The studies found several options could help mitigate the effects of air pollution including HEPA filters and certain types of trees and vegetation. Addressing underlying health inequities, such as increasing access to health insurance, will help strengthen communities’ resilience and help reduce impact of air pollution on health.

The University of Washington, across several departments, has begun new studies to deepen our understanding of the impact of air pollution on airport communities.

Read more about current research into impacts of aviation and airport operations

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