From Investigate West:

Living along the Duwamish River can erode years from your life.

The more than 38,000 people tucked into South Park, Georgetown and Beacon Hill neighborhoods along the river’s Superfund site suffer more illness – including asthma, diabetes and colorectal cancer – than elsewhere in King County. Babies born to families along the river are more likely to die and those who survive can expect a shorter life span than people born and raised just a few miles away.

Their obstacles are many. They are often poor. They are frequently overweight. Access to a supermarket, or to health care, can be tough.

But people here also carry the added burden of the river, a toxic stretch that is the legacy of Seattle’s industrial past. And Seattle’s industrial future continues to foul the air that residents breathe.

An InvestigateWest examination of county health records show that residents along the Superfund site have the highest hospitalization rates for asthma for children and adultsin the county. People in the neighborhood are more likely to say their health is poor than elsewhere in the county.

More of their babies are born at lower weights than most other children in the county.

Most stark of all is that the life expectancy of people who live along this five-mile stretch of river is significantly lower than for many other parts of the county.

This little-known public health data could help shape a massive, potentially billion dollar decision coming down the pike about how best to clean up the Superfund mega-site that squats in the middle of these residential communities.

Data collected by Public Health – Seattle & King County show that the expected life span of kids growing up in South Park/ Georgetown/Beacon Hill is 79.5 years. Not far away in Ballard or northeast Seattle, life expectancy is 85 years, comparable to the highest averages around the world.

The difference is “very significant,” says Ali Mokdad, professor of Global Health in the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. He notes that life expectancy in the U.S.  has been increasing steadily, rising by more than seven years for men, and more than six for women between 1960 and 2000.

History leans hard on Seattle’s river neighborhoods.

Three miles up from the West Seattle Bridge, the condemned shell of Boeing’s old B-52 plant (known as Plant 2) hulks along the banks that divide South Park on one side of the river from Georgetown on the other. The factory that gave the nation “Rosie the Riveter,” once stood for the muscle and pride of Seattle’s working class. Now it serves as one of the most visible landmarks in one of the nation’s nastiest messes.

Over the decades, manufacturing plants, truck depots, and scrap yards metastasized through the tidy, blue-collar neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park. Freeways ensnarled them. Three flight paths took shape overhead.

The fertile river valley once grew much of the produce that fed the Pike Place Market. Today a Superfund runs through it.

“They’ve been seen as the dumping ground because they’re so convenient to freeways and railways,” said Morgan Barry, a health education consultant for Public Health – Seattle & King County, who works with the Duwamish communities. According to the latest Census numbers, there are 38,465 people living in those neighborhoods.

While there’s been exhaustive analysis of the environmental impacto f historical polluters on the river and the health of creatures that live in it, as well as theoretical risk assessments of individual pollutants on human health, relatively little attention has been paid to the actual health status of residents living within the 32-square-mile Superfund site. Nor has there been consideration of the cumulative impact of the many health hazards they face.

More.

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