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North Idaho’s West Silver Valley attains Clean Air Act standards for fine particle pollution

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SEATTLE (Nov. 24, 2021)The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken final action to redesignate the air quality status of the West Silver Valley in North Idaho as “attainment” for the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act. 

The West Silver Valley Airshed, which runs from Cataldo to Big Creek and includes portions of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, has been designated as a nonattainment area for PM2.5 since 2015, meaning it violated the federal health-based annual standard for this pollutant. 

With help from an EPA Targeted Airshed Grant, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) launched an ambitious air quality improvement program aimed at replacing old woodstoves, installing community woodsheds, providing moisture meters to homeowners, and partnering with the Kellogg School District to develop an innovative education program centered on air quality. After nearly six years of successful improvement efforts, EPA has determined the area meets Clean Air Act health-based standards for PM2.5.

Residents of the West Silver Valley are breathing cleaner and healthier air thanks to the collaborative efforts by Idaho DEQ, its partners, and the community,” said Michelle Pirzadeh, EPA Acting Regional Administrator. “Building on this public health achievement to reduce harmful pollution emissions, we look forward to continued progress in protecting clean air for Idaho’s communities.”

“We want to thank the West Silver Valley community for their efforts to improve air quality in North Idaho,” said Tiffany Floyd, DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator. “Today’s action from EPA recognizes the local residents who took a community-minded approach to this matter and the years of hard work that made this milestone possible.”

DEQ’s Coeur d’Alene regional air quality coordinator, Dan Smith, also expressed gratitude for the community’s participation. “It was great to be able to help folks get a new stove and show them the best ways to burn. My favorite thing about this program was the time I got to spend with the folks up in the Silver Valley.”

City of Pinehurst fire chief, Mark Aamodt, celebrated the improvement in public safety as a result of these changeout efforts. “We’ve seen a reduction in the number of structure and chimney fires since the program began,” he said. “Replacing older, out-of-date chimneys and stoves has had a tremendous positive effect on public safety in the valley.”

Particulate matter are tiny particles approximately 1/30 the size of a human hair and can be emitted from a variety of sources, including wildfires, prescribed burns, crop residue burning, and smoke from residential wood fires.

West Silver Valley’s topography can trap fine particulate matter, causing elevated levels of pollution that can have adverse health effects, especially for individuals with underlying health conditions.

From 2016 to 2021, DEQ worked with the West Silver Valley community to upgrade over 200 old woodstoves to new EPA-certified units and installed 60 woodsheds. Taken together, these measures have helped the West Silver Valley meet the NAAQS for the first time in many years.

Smith encourages the community to continue these air quality improvement efforts to ensure the valley’s air remains clean for future generations. “As more and more families move to the Silver Valley, we need to help newcomers keep our air quality where it is today. This includes burning dry wood, using a new EPA-certified stove, and following best burning practices.”

For more information about particulate matter, visit https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics.

To learn how you can help improve air quality in Idaho, go to https://www.deq.idaho.gov/air-quality/improving-air-quality/.

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Author: Region 10

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