Air Quality and Climate Change

Climate change affects the quality of the air we breathe in many ways. Increased air pollution due to more wildfires, traffic and ozone threaten our respiratory health.

Increasing Wildfires

The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group's Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment reports that the area burned by fire regionally is projected to double by the 2040s and triple by the 2080s (as compared to 1916-2006), due to increased summer temperature and decreased summer precipitation. Climate change is expected to transform Washington's forests over the long term by affecting the establishment, growth, and distribution of forest plant species, and by increasing disturbances such as fire, insect outbreaks and disease.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles that can be inhaled deep into your lungs. This makes it harder to breathe and may worsen other chronic health conditions, such as asthma or heart disease. Wildfire smoke and your health.

Increasing Ground-Level Ozone

Ozone forms from chemical reactions involving nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight and heat. NOx and VOCs come largely from industry, cars, trucks, and equipment. When people breathe ozone air pollution, it can cause lung irritation, chest pain, coughing and congestion, as well as breathing difficulties during outdoor exercise or activities.

Ozone worsens lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Long-term exposure to ozone can damage the lungs. Asthma and your health.

Increase in Traffic-Related Air Pollution (TRAP)

Motor vehicles and other transportation-related sources produce nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions in our state. Greenhouse gases cause climate change. Vehicle emissions include carbon monoxide (CO), - a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (C02), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and a number of toxic chemicals. Understanding greenhouse gas emissions, Department of Ecology.

Fine particles and toxins in vehicle exhaust are linked to lung and heart disease, and some cancers. Outdoor Air Quality in Washington.

Learn about climate and health topic areas on our Climate and Health page.