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EPA fines cement plant operator $2.5 million over air pollution, requires major upgrades

The EPA is imposing a $2.5 million fine on a company that operates cement plants in nine states - including one along I-84 in eastern Oregon whose emissions blow into Idaho with the prevailing winds - for air pollution, and requiring the firm to invest $30 million in pollution controls at its plants. Ash Grove Cement Co.'s penalty was announced Wednesday by the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice, the AP reports, as part of a deal in which the Kansas-based company also will spend $750,000 to mitigate effects of past excess emissions. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. The EPA said the moves will reduce thousands of tons of harmful pollutants at plants in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Texas.

Treasure Valley air quality deteriorates…

Yuck. The sunrise was bright orange again, and now the sky is brown. Wildfire smoke is settling densely over the Treasure Valley, pushing air pollution levels up. Today's air quality is predicted to be in the "upper moderate" range, a range that stretches from 50 to 100 AQI, up from yesterday's AQI of 64. Moderate, or yellow, air quality falls short of the next range, orange, or "unhealthy for sensitive groups." This morning's 9 a.m. readings included 113.6 at Boise Fire Station No. 5; 84 in Meridian; and 84 in Nampa. Dave Luft of the Idaho DEQ said, "We're hovering right between the yellow and the orange right now. … The prognosis going forward is that we may get a break come Saturday, but that's kind of iffy." Personally, I've had a bad scratchy throat since yesterday morning, and I'm not even in any sensitive groups. Time to pray for rain…

Heavy smoke in Salmon prompts health advisory, Treasure Valley’s air inches into ‘good’ range

Air quality in Lemhi and Custer counties has hit the "very unhealthy" category, prompting warnings from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to stay indoors as much as possible; older adults, young children and those with medical conditions will be most affected, but it's bad enough that everyone is being advised to avoid heavy work or exercise outdoors in the affected areas. "Salmon's getting inundated with smoke," said Mike Toole of the Idaho DEQ. "They're in the 'very unhealthy' category continually."

Meanwhile, the Treasure Valley's air has improved so much that it's actually inched into the green or "good" category, though the forecast was for it to stay in the yellow or "moderate" range. Current pollution is in the 40s on the air quality index, at the high end of the "good" category that ends at 50. "The forecasts we made were actually high," Toole said. "It's fantastic. … We've actually experienced a lot better air quality than we anticipated." Favorable wind and weather conditions have cleared the valley's air so well that even when changing conditions bring smoke back in, it's likely not to get as bad as it's been in recent weeks, Toole said.

Because wildfire smoke is such a highly visible pollutant, people who live in areas without air monitors can tell how bad it gets just by looking. "If visibility is reduced to less than eight miles, sensitive groups should limit activity," Health & Welfare advises in a statement today. "If visibility is reduced to less than three miles, air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. Visibility of less than one mile is considered hazardous and everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors." People in Salmon who lack air conditioning are being advised to visit the Salmon Public Library or Salmon Valley Baptist Church for relief from the smoke; click below for Health & Welfare's full advisory.

Air quality moves into unhealthy range, outdoor k.d. lang concert canceled

The Treasure Valley's air quality has gotten so bad - with an orange air quality alert issued by the state DEQ - that tonight's scheduled k.d. lang concert at the Eagle River Pavilion has been canceled. CTTouring announced the cancellation "due to the poor air quality in the Treasure Valley and the DEQ orange air quality alert suggesting that people stay inside;" click below for their full announcement. The DEQ has posted tips here for people to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health. Yesterday's air quality index of 104 and today's predicted level of 110 both fall into the orange, or unhealthy, range. Children and people with asthma are considered to be most at risk; all outdoor burning is banned in Ada and Canyon counties.

Clean Air Award given to CXT Inc. for cutting emissions

Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency has named CXT Inc. as the 2011 Clean Air Award winner.

The award will be presented Thursday at an 11:30 a.m. ceremony at the Davenport Hotel.

The company makes precast concrete products, including railroad ties for major railways. It has two production plants in Spokane Valley, one of which produced concrete outdoor products, including concrete buildings.

CXT last year began a series of production changes to reduce emissions, a press release noted. The biggest was to replace most of its solvent-based paints with water-based paints, used at its concrete outdoor-products facility. The company also used a parts washer using a more environmentally friendly washing fluid, in place of traditional solvents.

The changes cut volatile organics emissions by nearly 50 percent. David Steiger, VP of CXT's Precast Buidlings, said the changes took place during the busiest year the production facilities have had.

Spokane Valley’s Fiber-Tech Industries earned the 2010 award  for reducing emissions at its production plant.