About The Episode

How toxic emissions from diesel trucks are endangering residents in south Seattle. This report examines the fallout of truck emissions in south Seattle, which a new study says has some of the worst air in the state. It contains lessons and implications for any area dealing with major roadway traffic near schools and residential neighborhoods.

This story is the product of a collaboration between InvestigateWest, an independent nonprofit newsroom covering the Pacific Northwest, and KCTS 9.

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Behind-the-Scenes at the Controlled Exposure Lab

Meet the Investigators of “Breathing Uneasy”

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invw.org | Read the story

Producer's Notes

Producer's Notes

Producer notes are the chatty story-within-a-story and as such should begin with a confession. Here’s mine: I am that most reviled of creatures in Seattle, a Californian. But wait it gets worse. I’m from Los Angeles.

What does this have to do with air pollution? Plenty. As a kid growing up in Southeast LA, I lived and breathed air pollution. Smog is something you can see. It’s a brown, semi-transparent chemical haze that looks gross except at sunset when it turns the sky into a cool-looking moody bruised rainbow.

You can feel air pollution. As a kid I could tell when the air was bad even before the government declared a smog alert and the nuns made us come inside during recess. All I had to do was take a deep breath and my lungs would reverberate with a not entirely unpleasant ache. That’s air pollution.

So imagine my surprise when I’m assigned to do an air pollution story on Seattle. The clean-and-green Emerald City I now call home where I’ve been taking deep breathes without a hint of ache. Turns out I had lots to learn.

Long story short, since last fall I’ve been spending a lot of time in South Seattle with environmental reporter Robert McClure and videographer Greg Davis looking into the problem of air pollution in South Park and Georgetown. Along the way, my myths about air pollution have vanished into thin air.

What I’ve learned about air pollution

You can’t always see it
In fact, the stuff we don’t see is the most hazardous to our health because tiny particles get into our lungs and can’t be coughed out.

Diesel is the enemy
The tiniest particles come from diesel exhaust which scientists are finding, is bad for you in very small doses.

Air pollution doesn’t only cause breathing problems
When you breathe in miniscule diesel particulates, toxins hitchhike into your body, into your blood, maybe even past the blood/brain barrier – to cause heart attacks, strokes and cancers.

It’s in your neighborhood
Diesel is probably in your life thanks to delivery trucks, garbage trucks and buses which all run on diesel engines many of which are old and polluting. New diesel engines run 90% cleaner but they are expensive and those old diesel engines run forever.

Puget Sound’s cities are dirty too
Seattle has a national reputation as an eco-nirvana but the Puget Sound region is in the top 5 percent of communities nationally for air toxics.

Don’t live near a highway or port
The best thing you can do to breathe easy: don’t live or work close to a major road, highway or freeway or port. How far away do you need to be? Four football fields, according to Dr. Joel Kaufman, who heads up the diesel exposure lab at the University of Washington.

Jenny Cunningham, Producer


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Seattle has had extreme weather - the wettest, coldest spring on record with very unhealthy air quality. LaNina happened here from July 2010-May2011. It just left - and took the air pressure with it. The jet stream is now pulling south instead. Because of these facts the wind now blows in different directions (facts on weather channel). I moved into my apartment last July 2010 and did not notice any air quality problems. The end of this May 2011 for a period of 3 weeks (more or less) into June - I was in a panic over extreme gasoline fumes intermittently flowing (along with breathable air) into my 2nd flr. apt -causing me extreme dizziness and a sore throat. I thought someone was hoarding gasoline. --This apartment is one block away from NE145th & Lake City Way in Seattle. So real is/was this problem I called a professional for information (too expensive couldn't do) - and called my landlord in. Because of the intermittent-ness of this problem (depends on which way the wind blows) - I couldn't 'prove' my problem at the time. Because of my distress my landlord will 'let me go' but - my one year is up anyway. However - because of your show - it 'rocked' my world. I now understand 'better' this problem of deisel fuel. I now understand I have to move (problem is not over). I now understand the ground/air was so wet for those initial 3 -4 weeks when the air pressure left that the fumes were riding on a wet mist - on different wind currents right into my apartment. Presently - the air is drier, ground drier and the extreme fumes are gone with a lingering hint of gasoline - off and on. I can't wait until 2017 for the new 'laws' to come into effect for the Port of Seattle. Four months after I moved into this apartment I 'couldn't breathe', had a heart attack - thank God the UW hospital is local. I'm moving to Portland - where NOAA just relocated.

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