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National report highlights clean air in Bellingham, Whatcom County, Skagit County

Apr. 21, 2016

Bellingham is one of only eight cities in the country ranked this year by the American Lung Association as the cleanest for ozone and short-term particle pollution.

Skagit County made the 2016 list of cleanest counties for ozone pollution, and Whatcom is on the cleanest counties list for both short-term particle and ozone pollution.

“In our three-county jurisdiction, we have some of the best air quality in the country,” said NWCAA Executive Director Mark Asmundson. “Clean air is what we think about every day, so it feels good to be recognized for it. But the real value of this report is that it draws attention to the importance of clean air to public health.”

What is the State of the Air report?

The American Lung Association released its 17th annual State of the Air report, a nationwide look at particle and ozone pollution – two widespread air pollutants that are dangerous to public health. It uses data from official air quality monitors submitted by air quality agencies like ours, and it estimates respiratory disease rates to provide a comparative picture of populations at risk.

The Lung Association uses three years of data from monitors across the country. This year’s report covers 2012 – 2014.

The ALA news release does a good job of summarizing the national trends and key findings.

How are we doing locally?

The short answer: Great! Even better than last year.

The air is usually very clean in most of our jurisdiction. We already knew that, but we wanted to be on the ALA map to show how well we compare with the other cities and counties in the country, so several years ago we started providing data in the format the ALA required.

By 2013, we had enough data to make last year’s list of cleanest places for ozone, and by 2014, we had more data to get some places in our jurisdiction on this year’s list of cleanest places for particulate, too.

In addition to being one of only eight cities in the country to make both cleanest-places lists for ozone and short-term particle pollution, Bellingham’s air quality looks good if you consider each list separately:

  • Bellingham is the only city in Washington, and one of only 93 cities in the country on the list of cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution. These are cities that had no days of unhealthy particle pollution.
  • Bellingham is one of two cities in Washington, along with Spokane, and one of 32 cities in the country on the Lung Association’s list of cleanest cities for ozone air pollution. These cities had no monitored ozone air pollution in unhealthful ranges on the national air quality index.

Skagit and Whatcom counties were also among the cleanest U.S. counties for ozone air pollution. In Washington, they were joined by Clallam, Pierce and Spokane. Skagit and Whatcom got an “A” for ozone in the report, and this year, Whatcom also made the list of cleanest counties for short-term particle pollution.

Why aren’t other parts of our jurisdiction represented?

We know the air in other parts of our jurisdiction is just as good as it is in the areas that made the “clean” lists in the ALA report. But the report doesn’t show all the information we have.

While we use very accurate monitoring equipment in all locations, not all our equipment is the type that ALA looked at for the report.

Also, ALA looked at two pollutants that are prevalent and problematic across the country: ozone and particulate. We monitor for particulate, ozone and sulfur dioxide, depending on the potential sources of air pollution nearby.

If you want to take a closer look at your local air quality, our monitors continue to be the best and most accurate place to go, and if you’re in our jurisdiction, your air is normally very good, even if it’s not in this report. We have seven ambient air quality monitoring locations (ambient means they show us the quality of the air in the area) throughout Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Go to the air quality center on our website, to see real-time air quality gauges and data trends.

Some large industries also are required to provide us with data. You can see the monthly summaries of data from our monitors and the industry fence-line monitors.

The report includes lists of “at-risk groups.” What do these lists mean for our communities?

The Lung Association projected disease prevalence for all of the counties included in the air quality lists, however it did not calculate health risks from air quality information.

Even though the report didn’t use air quality data to determine disease rates, the point is clear: Air quality matters to health. The report talks about health risks caused by air pollution.

Our communities, like communities everywhere, are home to healthy people and also to people who suffer from asthma, COPD, and other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The state and federal Clean Air Acts laid the groundwork for air quality standards that protect the environment, and the health of all people, including sensitive populations – asthmatics, children and the elderly.

“We are fortunate to live in a place where the air is clean,” Asmundson said, “and proud of our success in helping to keep it that way.”

More information:


  • Katie Skipper, Northwest Clean Air Agency Communications Program Manager, office: 360-428- 1617 ext. 235, mobile: 360-724-8766
  • Mark Asmundson, Northwest Clean Air Agency Executive Director, 360-428-1617


The Northwest Clean Air Agency is responsible for enforcing federal, state and local air quality regulations in Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties. In addition to permitting and regulating industrial sources of air pollution, the agency provides services and information related to asbestos, indoor air quality, outdoor burning, woodstoves and fireplaces. More information about the agency is available at