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Report: More illness, shorter lifespans in Duwamish River valley

Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition

A new report shows residents of Seattle’s Duwamish River valley are exposed to more pollution, have greater vulnerability to pollution-caused illnesses and live shorter lives than residents in other areas of Seattle and King County.

The report is a 40-page booklet full of data and maps comparing ten Seattle zip codes. It looks at the cumulative health impacts of exposure to pollution and other factors known to make people more vulnerable to illness, such as poverty and stress.

B.J. Cummings with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition served as project manager for the study. She says the results are striking.

“South Park and Georgetown have heart disease rates 47 percent higher than the county average, childhood asthma hospitalization rates twice the county average and significantly higher incidents of lung cancer, diabetes and stroke deaths,” Cummings says.

And she says that results in the most significant finding of the study.

"Life expectancy in South Park and Georgetown is eight years shorter than the Seattle and King County average – and 13 years shorter than for residents of Laurelhurst, in North Seattle."

The report doesn’t single out pollution as the cause of the health problems. But it does have recommendations to improve community health, such as creating a special fund to make the neighborhoods healthier. Some projects already in the works include planting street trees and building rain gardens.

And they are using the findings to make a case to the EPA that its Superfund cleanup plan should do more to permanently remove contaminated sediment from the river rather than just capping it in some areas.

The plan is open for public comment through mid-June.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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