2010 April 29: MT Great Falls: Local air among cleanest

2010 April 29: MT Great Falls: Local air among cleanest

By RICHARD ECKE • Tribune Staff Writer • April 29, 2010

Great Falls is tied for fourth-best city in the country in terms of low levels of particle pollution year-round, although it does not rank so highly for short-term particle pollution.

That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association called "State of the Air 2010." The report said 58 percent of Americans, or more than 175 million people, live in places where polluted air is often too dangerous to breathe.
The Rocky Mountain West fared better than those areas. Cheyenne, Wyo., sports the least year-round particle pollution in the country.
Montanans appear to have less to worry about than urban centers, although two counties in the state, Missoula and Silver Bow, received grades of "F" for overall particle pollution levels.
Andrew Finch, senior transportation planner for the city of Great Falls, said the Electric City has not "had anything remotely approaching" a violation of particulate regulations for years, even as federal requirements became more stringent over time.
Finch said the closure of the Anaconda Co. metals refinery in Black Eagle in 1980 probably helped, along with better maintenance of gravel roads.
In addition, he credited the city’s "pretty stringent" street-sweeping practices with helping keep down particle pollution in Great Falls.
Cascade County was rated 13th-best among the country’s counties for year-round particle pollution.
"We do not typically have many problems, thanks to wind," said Sandy Johnson, environmental health manager for the City-County Health Department in Great Falls.
Johnson said ozone levels are not monitored in Great Falls. Monitoring equipment in Overlook Park checks particulate pollution, and a small shack at 2nd Street and 10th Avenue South monitors carbon monoxide levels.
The city and county typically fare well in both categories, although air quality can suffer in forest-fire season, she said.
Billings was ranked among the best cities nationwide for short-term particle pollution, and it ranked 18th-best for particle pollution year-round, according to the report.
Cascade County received a "C" overall for particle pollution. Johnson said she was not sure what criteria were used to produce that middling grade.
Flathead County received an "A" for ozone levels, and Yellowstone County received an overall "A" grade, despite having a coal-fired power plant in the Billings area.
Great Falls’ high finish in the year-round particle pollution category gained national attention, including a mention of the Electric City on the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" on Wednesday night.

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Richard Ecke at recke@greatfallstribune.com, or at 406-791-1467 or 800-438-6600.

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