By ROBERT S. MERRILL
Air pollution levels in Franklin County are holding their own in the moderate category, even though a temperature inversion that has trapped stagnant air at the surface remains in effect.
The Department of Environmental Quality issued its very first air quality advisory for Franklin County on Dec. 31, which triggered wood-burning ordinances enacted by the county and several municipalities last year.
When pollution levels reach a point of being a problem for those with health issues a ban on wood burning is initiated. The woodstove burn ban applies to all areas of the county, according to Melissa Gibbs, airshed coordinator with DEQ, based in Pocatello.
Gibbs told The Citizen the DEQ has been monitoring air quality in Franklin County and since the air advisory was issued there has been a very slight improvement in air quality, despite the continuing inversion with stagnant air and cold temperatures.
“One of the DEQ’s main goals with the wood-burning ordinances is to raise public awareness about the air-quality problem in Franklin County. We have found the public is most often more-than-willing to do what they can to help,” she said.
“We attribute the slight decrease in pollution levels in the county to the fact folks have been helping out and not burning wood, which adds to the problem during inversion periods.”
The triggering mechanism for the wood-burning ban is when 2.5 fine particulate matter reaches a level of 25.4 micrograms per cubic meter. Exposure to fine particles is linked to a variety of serious health problems including decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, non-fatal heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease, she explained.
Gibbs said based on monitoring data it has been determined Cache Valley, spanning Idaho and Utah, has failed to meet the 24-hour standard for PM2.5. Contributing factors include wood stove emissions, vehicle emissions and mobile dust.
Gibbs said approximately 90 percent of the population is in Cache Valley and 90 percent of emissions come from Cache County, while 10 percent come from Franklin County.
Franklin County and all incorporated towns in Franklin County this past summer adopted a wood-burning ordinance which encourages people to refrain from using older wood stoves on bad air days. The exception is if it is an only source of heat or creates a financial hardship. Newer EPA-approved wood stoves are also exempt from the rule.
Franklin County and most areas of Cache Valley experience poor air-quality events during stagnant wintertime conditions, like we are now experiencing, due to temperature inversions that trap pollution by acting as a lid on the bowl-like topography of the area.
Gibbs said those interested in knowing what air pollution levels are in Franklin County can now check on a DEQ website or call a 24-hour hotline at (208) 239-5028.
Based on federal standards, DEQ calculates a daily Air Quality Index (AQI) based on the most current 24-hour average concentration of particulate matter (PM2.5), according to Gibbs.
“The AQI will be posted on DEQ’s website each weekday morning and, if an air pollution episode is predicted or present, on Saturday and Sunday mornings as well. The hotline is updated every Monday through Friday during the spring, summer and fall months. It will be extended to weekends and holidays between November and February,” she said.
The website and hotline also indicate whether residential wood heating is allowable or restricted, depending on air quality conditions, said Gibbs.
She said residents can receive daily updates via email by subscribing to DEQ’s Daily Air Quality Reports and Forecasts page, clicking on the “Subscribe to this page” link, selecting a location and entering an email address.
For further information about air quality monitoring in the Franklin County area contact Gibbs, at 236-6160 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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