Study: Duwamish residents have short life expectancy

Study: Duwamish residents have short life expectancy
Duwamish River, Photo by Paul Joseph Brown.

SEATTLE -- A new study claims that people living in the Duwamish Valley are exposed to more pollution and live shorter lives than residents in other parts of the Seattle. 

Two local nonprofits – Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) and Just Health Action – helped to create The Duwamish Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Analysis in an effort to influence the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released plan to clean up the Duwamish River.

The study compared the 98108 zip code, which includes South Park, Georgetown and part of Beacon Hill, to 10 other zip codes in Seattle. Researchers looked at all exposures to toxic substances that affect health – such as air pollution and contaminated soils – as well as things known to make people more vulnerable to illness, such as stress or lack of health insurance.

They found the average life expectancy in the Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods is 73.3 years, eight years shorter than the Seattle average.

Researchers also report that 98108 residents have the greatest cumulative health impacts citywide. The zip code also ranks poorest in the city for most environmental health factors.

"All people deserve the opportunity to live up to their full potential," said Linn Gould of Just Health Action, lead researcher and author of the health report. "This study shows that Duwamish Valley residents are disproportionately and unfairly burdened by multiple stressors outside of their control. Decision makers should take action to resolve these inequities."

Seattle/King County Public Health is currently reviewing the results of this study, but public information officer Hilary Karasz did tell us:

“It’s not a surprise that the report identifies areas in the county where the life expectancy is lower and rates of asthma hospitalization, diabetes, obesity, smoking, access to healthy food and exercise opportunities, health insurance status, income and other health and social attributes are worse. We know that where you live really does have an impact on your health. We’re engaged with partners in a number of communities, including the Duwamish area, to help address these issues.”

The DRCC is recommending that local, state and federal agencies partner to create and fund a Community Health Task Force aimed at reducing residents’ exposure to pollutants and improving community health.

The organization is also asking the EPA to remove more contaminated sediment from the Duwamish; enforce pollution source controls and increase green spaces along the river.

"The Duwamish River is the largest toxic site in the Duwamish Valley and one of many influences on health that are burdening local residents," said BJ Cummings of the DRCC. "EPA's cleanup plan is out for public review, so we have an opportunity to make sure that it reduces health risks and optimizes benefits to the greatest extent possible."

This study was funded by an EPA Environmental Justice Research Grant and the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health.

The EPA is accepting public comments on its proposed Duwamish River Cleanup Plan until June 13.