LemhiWeb Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture

AIR QUALITY ALERT 7-19-17 LMS

The city of Salmon is a participant in the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Particulate Matter (PM) Advance Program which deals with the quality of air local residents are breathing.

Rensay Owen of the DEQ Air Quality Monitoring Compliance Division spoke to the July 19 meeting of the Salmon City Council and updated councilmen on a Salmon Idaho PM 2.5 Source Apportionment Research Study conducted by the University of Montana. He said the DEQ financed study showed that 69 percent of the particulate matter in the air during the months of November through February is coming from wood smoke generated by wood burning stoves. The readings indicated more than 30 micrograms per cubic meter. In non-Winter months the wood smoke particulate matter registered 47.3 percent wood smoke. 

In the four meetings held so far, a local Air Shed Advisory Group has been focusing on ways to communicate air quality problems to the public along with what can be done to reduce the particulate matter levels. Councilman Jim Bockelman is a member of the local Air Shed Advisory Group. During one of the meetings the advisory group heard a presentation on how the Salmon Challis National Forest uses prescribed fire as a management tool to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Owen told the council a reduction of wood stove use is the obvious answer and the local group has been talking about community ‘out-reach’ and education communication strategies to address the wood smoke problem. He said that a voluntary curtailment program would seem to be the best approach. Owen proposed that when the particulate matter reaches a predesignated harmful level, wood stove users would be asked to voluntarily stop burning wood.

This area has not reached mandatory Clean Air Act curtailment status as yet and the advisory group’s goal is to not exceed limits by way of voluntary help from the community. Any no wood burning policy that might come from discussions would not apply to those homes with no other heating source. 

Anything over 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air is a violation of the Federal Clean Air Act. Since that reading is when ‘mandatory’ kicks in Owen said it would be best to stay below that number. He said if local limits were to be set at 20 to 30, reaching that level would take over two days a week of no wood burning. If the voluntary limit was set at 34 it would mean 30 days of no wood burning during the November through February period. Owen said in order for Salmon’s wintertime air quality to improve it will take more than one or two days a week of no wood stove fires.

Ryan Rossi, DEQ Air Quality Monitoring Coordinator, suggested the options of providing more information on better burning practices such as using dry wood and installing stove pipe temperature meters. Council President Jim Baker predicted a public “push back” if a government entity tried to dictate wood stove use and he also commented that there are people who make a living providing firewood. 

It was agreed community awareness is the key to better wintertime air quality and a Main Street reader board listing current air quality data was the most favored suggestion.

During the evening’s last public comment opportunity Robin Phillips reminded the council that many people have upgraded their wood stoves to EPA approved models and that that has to be taken into consideration. She also asked how any wood burning limits are going to be enforced.

Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management and the Salmon Challis National Forest were in attendance for the DEQ presentation 

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