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Air Quality Program

Nonattainment Areas in Washington

States monitor air quality in different areas to find out how much pollution is in the air. When an area violates federal air quality standards, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can make one of three designations for the area based on a state's recommendation:

  • Attainment (meeting a standard)
  • Nonattainment (failing to meet a standard)
  • Unclassifiable (not enough information to designate)

A nonattainment designation can have both environmental and economic consequences for communities in and around the area.


Information about air quality standards

EPA sets air quality standards to protect health. EPA has set standards for seven air pollutants: fine particulate matter (PM2.5), larger particulate matter (PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), lead (Pb), and ozone (O3). The standards define how much air pollution is safe in the outdoor air.

Learn more about air quality standards in Washington.

New, stricter standards for PM2.5 and ozone

EPA recently strengthened the national air quality health standards for PM2.5, and is proposing to strengthen the ozone standard, to better protect public health.

  • PM2.5 is made up of pieces of soot, dust, and unburned fuel. These particles are so small they penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cause serious health problem. The current PM2.5 standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
  • Ozone is formed when sunlight interacts with emissions from motor vehicles, industry, solvents, and gasoline fumes. Ozone affects the body’s respiratory system, especially in children and asthmatics. On January 7, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to strengthen the federal 8-hour ozone air quality standard. This proposal would set the primary public health standard within a range of 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million (ppm). The current standard is 0.075 ppm.

The potential effects of a change in the ozone standard are not clear at this time, and would vary depending on where within the proposed range EPA sets the standard.

Ecology and its air quality partners are starting to assess how a nonattainment declaration in any area would affect citizens and businesses. Ecology is committed to keeping the public informed of new developments.

Areas that don't meet standards

One area of Washington violates the PM2.5 standard: the Wapato Hills-Puyallup River Valley area. Several other areas are close to exceeding it.

EPA has accepted Ecology’s recommendation to designate the Wapato Hills-Puyallup River Valley area nonattainment for PM2.5. (See a map of the recommended nonattainment area.) EPA finalized the designation on December 14, 2009. Ecology must submit a plan to EPA by December 14, 2012 to bring the area back into attainment with the PM2.5 standard by 2014.

Links to more information

Documents discussing PM2.5 nonattainment recommendations:


Public process documents:


Air quality standards in Washington

EPA's air quality standards

EPA's proposed new ozone standard

Map of the Wapato Hills-Puyallup River Valley PM2.5 nonattainment area