Mother Nature and pollutionfighting efforts gave Spokane County a break last year in air quality.
For the first time since air pollution monitoring began more than 25 years ago, Spokane didn’t violate federal health standards for carbon monoxide or dust.
“In 1994, we squeaked by,” said Eric Skelton, director of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority.
In contrast, Spokane flunked air quality standards on 228 days in 1974. Weather conditions worked in Spokane’s favor last year.
For the first time in many years, there was no major regional dust storm and there were fewer inversions to trap dirty air over the city.
But it wasn’t just the most-polluted days that diminished. A trend toward hazier days which air quality officials had reported early last year also reversed.
The number of hazy days of “moderate” air quality declined, while “good air” days increased to 165 days from 134 in 1993.
The air is considered good when carbon monoxide and particulates fall below 50 percent of federal limits.
Moderate air quality is between half the standard and the federal limit for fine dust, smoke and other pollutants.
Better technology, including cleaner-burning car engines and wood stoves, is a factor in Spokane’s cleaner air.
Officials also are pursuing a series of initiatives to meet federal Clean Air Act deadlines. door burning, use of oxygenated fuels in winter, use of liquid chemicals for snow removal, stepped-up street cleaning and efforts to control dust from paved and unpaved roads.
If Spokane can go three years without a violation, officials can petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify Spokane as an area meeting the standards for carbon monoxide and particulates.
Until this year, Spokane typically has exceeded the limits from three to a dozen times, Skelton said.
Spokane’s federally imposed deadline to meet the particulate standard was Dec. 31.
Because Spokane is making a credible effort to control and study its dust problems, the EPA will propose an extension of the deadline to the end of 1997, said George Lauderdale, an EPA senior engineer in Seattle.
Spokane must meet the carbon monoxide standard by Dec. 31 this year. It will take only one more year of clean air to do that.
“Spokane is halfway there,” said EPA engineer Mike Lidgard.
Spokane officials will have to do more to control air pollution while the area grows, Skelton said.
Traffic congestion during commuting hours, road dust and wood smoke continue to be problems that bring Spokane close to exceeding the air pollution limits.
“It’s too early to rest on our laurels,” Skelton said.
The EPA sets standards for carbon monoxide and particulates because of their health dangers.
Carbon monoxide, a colorless gas, is toxic if inhaled in sufficient amounts.
Tiny particles of dust, some far smaller than the width of a human hair, can go deep into the lungs, where they aggravate lung disease and transmit toxins to the bloodstream.