Posted: Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 – 12:12:17 pm MST
By Brad Fuqua, The Western News
In the world of air quality success stories, Libby looms large on the national scene.
Although the pollution problem in Libby was easily narrowed down through studies that revealed 80 percent of the PM 2.5 (particulate matter) in the air could be traced to wood smoke, it’s still significant to see a control plan actually work.
In comparison, a larger city may have pollution from a variety of sources ranging from excessive automobiles to industrial manufacturing facilities – factors that add all kinds of complexities with the implementation of a control plan.
“Libby is in the country the only one that has to date been designated non-attainment for the pollutant and then come back into compliance with that,” the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Eric Merchant said during a community meeting on air quality Tuesday night. “The regional EPA office is touting Libby as the shining example in the country of a place that did it. I’m not belittling the fact that there are less complex air pollution problems here; the point is, this control plan did it. It resulted in cleaning up the air.”
That was one of Merchant’s primary messages to residents during a public meeting that attracted only about 20 people – much fewer than last year in the weeks following an air alert. Merchant told Libby residents that they had come a long way and urged continued vigilance so the region can maintain attainment status.
“The project up here with the cooperation we had is unique across the country,” said John Coefield, meteorologist with Montana DEQ. “We had an entire community with a woodstove changeout … this was the test ground here and we asked, will it work? And in fact, it did work.”
Merchant, Coefield and Kevin Cardwell of the U.S. Forest Service each shared their views on air quality control along with the Lincoln County Environmental Health Department’s Erik Leigh and Kendra Lind.
“Almost one year ago today, we had a public meeting with a lot of concerns raised,” the county’s Kathi Hooper said. “We wanted to come back this year and let everybody know that we took those concerns seriously.”
Merchant was also on hand for last year’s meeting. This time around, he believes residents are just more informed about the air quality program.
“They have a better understanding and it’s not such a surprise,” he said.
Leigh reviewed the four-stage system in effect for advisories and an alert and how the public can receive information. He also went over available services through the county, such as permits, wood moisture meters, stack thermometers, certified stove installer and electric heater loaner program.