Lawsuit Against Port of Seattle Claims Airborne Pollution

The class action complaint alleges toxic pollution generated by Sea-Tac air traffic is harming residents’ health and property values.

A Seattle-based law firm representing residents living within five miles of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (KSEA) has filed a class action complaint alleging toxic pollution generated by air traffic is harming residents’ health and property values. [Credit: Shutterstock]

A Seattle-based law firm representing residents living within five miles of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (KSEA) has filed a class action complaint alleging toxic pollution generated by air traffic is harming residents’ health and property values.

The complaint was filed April 19 in Superior Court in King County, Washington. The suit names the Port of Seattle—the airport sponsor—along with Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, two of the busiest carriers at Sea-Tac.

According to the suit, pollution is "particularly acute" in the King County communities of Sea-Tac, Tukwila, Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, and Renton, which it referred to as the "Contamination Zone." Per the suit, approximately 300,000 people live in the zone, including 60,000 children.

Map of the Contamination Zone (5-mile radius from Sea-Tac Airport). [Credit: Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP]

"When planes take off and land from Sea-Tac Airport, the jet fuel they burn spews pollutants into the atmosphere," said the 48-page complaint filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. "Particulate matter can also flake off from the bodies of the  airplanes themselves during flight, further contaminating the surrounding environment."

The complaint, drawing on information gleaned from studies done by the University of Washington, asserts the pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur oxide, formaldehyde, acrolein, butadiene, naphthalene, benzene, acetaldehyde, and ethylbenzene; and toxic heavy metals including aluminum, barium, cadmium, copper, lead, magnesium, silver, uranium, and zinc.

"These pollutants settle over local communities, contaminating the air residents breathe and the soil where their children play," the lawsuit continues, "It is beyond dispute that these pollutants can cause respiratory problems (including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pulmonary fibrosis) cardiovascular problems, central nervous system disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease."

The plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial, clean up of the area, and health monitoring for the people affected.

The Port of Seattle is reviewing the lawsuit but would not comment on the specific claims, a spokesperson told FLYING

"However, it is important to note that the airport and its tenants follow strict federal, state, and local requirements as they relate to how operations impact environmental issues such as air quality and noise," the port spokesperson said. "In addition, the airport and its tenants routinely go above and beyond regulatory requirements to voluntarily further eliminate emissions, reduce noise, and protect habitat.”  

Neither Alaska nor Delta responded to requests for comment.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter