Writings and observations

Soot spots

The Environmental Protection Agency has come out with its list of the soot places in America – those counties or parts of counties where the population of airborne particles is too high. This means “fine particles, which are unhealthy to breathe and have been associated with premature mortality and other serious health effects. Fine particles are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller and are also referred to as PM2.5.” Often, albeit not always, soot.

The first peculiarity that hits you is the unlikeliness of some of these places. Franklin County, Idaho? That’s a lightly populated place, and no heavy industry to be found (nearby Caribou County, comparable in size, has more of that.) Klamath County? It’s not much more more heavily populated, and out there on the windswept – or so it’s seemed every time we’ve been there – countryside.

In Lane County, the core population center of Eugene-Springfield is tucked in a valley, and the area nearby is known for field burning. But Tacoma to the north? Heavy population, but what makes it more particulate-friendly than King County to the north?

The EPA’s explanations are, at least, on line.

Here’s the key part of the explanatory material from the EPA’s press release:

In 2006, EPA strengthened the 24-hour fine particle standards from 65 micrograms per cubic meter to 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air to protect public health. Nationwide, monitored levels of fine particle pollution fell 11 percent from 2000 to 2007.

Fine particles can either be emitted directly, or they can form in the atmosphere from reactions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Exposure to fine particle pollution can cause serious health problems, ranging from increased hospital admissions and doctor and emergency department visits for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, to heart attacks and to premature death.

The newly-designated areas in The Pacific Northwest . . .

IDAHO (Franklin County, Shoshone County)

Franklin County (Franklin)

A portion of Franklin County is being designated as a PM2.5 nonattainment area. This area is a two-state, two-region nonattainment area along with the State of Utah and EPA Region 8. The area is named the Cache Valley PM2.5 Nonattainment Area. The designation is based on 2005-2007 data from the Logan, Utah and the Franklin, Idaho PM2.5 monitors.

Based on our analysis, local heating emissions from woodstoves, and emissions from agricultural activities, and mobile emissions contribute to primary and secondarily formed PM2.5 that violate the standard during stable weather events associated with extremely strong inversions.

These emissions and the related effects are limited to the Cache Valley, as they are trapped there due to temperature inversions, low wind, and local topography. The rest of the county is very sparsely populated with no sources that can contribute to a violation of the PM2.5 standard at the Franklin monitor.

Shoshone County, ID (Pinehurst)

A portion of Shoshone County (city of Pinehurst and surrounding areas) is being designated as a PM2.5 nonattainment area. The designation is based on 2005-2007 data from the Pinehurst, ID PM2.5 monitor.

Based on EPA’s analysis, local heating emissions from woodstoves contribute to primary PM2.5 that violates the standard during stable weather events associated with strong inversions. These emissions and the related effects are limited to the City of Pinehurst airshed, as they are trapped there due to temperature inversions, low wind and local topography.

The rest of the county is very sparsely populated with no sources that can contribute to a violation of the PM2.5 standard at the Pinehurst monitor.

OREGON (Klamath County & Lane County)

Klamath County

A portion of Klamath County is being designated nonattainment for the revised 2006 PM2.5 NAAQS based on 2005-2007 data from the Klamath Falls PM2.5 monitor.

EPA is designating the area comprised of the modified Air Quality Zone (AQZ) in Klamath Falls as the nonattainment area. The AQZ contains the areas that violate the PM2.5 NAAQS, as well as areas with sources that contribute to those violations.

Technical analysis by both the State & EPA indicates that residential home heating, using wood burning appliances, is the main contributor to the area’s fine particle pollution.

Oakridge

A portion of Lane County is being designated nonattainment for the revised 2006 PM2.5 NAAQS based on 2005-2007 data from the Oakridge PM2.5 monitor.

EPA designated an area the includes the Oakridge Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and the city of Westfir and surrounding populated areas. EPA’s designated boundary includes an area that covers the mountain ridges to include the valleys in which Oakridge and Westfir are located.

EPA’s technical analysis points to residential home heating using wood burning appliances as being the main contributors to fine particle pollution in this area.

WASHINGTON (Wapato Hills/-Puyallup River Valley/Tacoma)

Wapato Hills/Puyallup River (Pierce County)

EPA is designating the Wapato Hills Puyallup River Valley (Tacoma) area as nonattainment for the 24-hour PM2.5 standard on December 18th 2008.

EPA’s technical analysis found that local sources, dominated by woodstove and fireplace emissions, cause and contribute to the violations captured at a at the monitor in a residential area southwest of Tacoma ( at 7802 South L Street at the Peterson School). Other local sources also contribute to the violations (particularly mobile sources and diesel trucks). These violations occur during the winter when temperature inversions trap emissions and result in stagnant air.

The Puyallup Reservation is included in the boundary of the nonattainment area. EPA will continue to work with the Tribe through the nonattainment area planning process to help ensure healthy air quality on Puyallup tribal lands.

EPA is supportive of early actions that the State of Washington and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have taken to reduce PM levels in the area. Two major efforts are:

A woodstove change out program which is an effort to replace old inefficient woodstoves with new, efficient models; and

Participation in the NW Ports Clean Air Strategy which aims to reduce diesel and greenhouse gas emissions in the region by achieving early reductions in advance of, and complementary to, applicable regulations.

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