HELENA – About $1 million in wood-burning stoves, chimneys and service will be given away in Libby to get rid of older, polluting stoves and clear the air, which is dirty enough to land the community on a federal pollution list.
The stove industry is donating about 300 modern stoves that burn wood and produce less pollution than earlier models. The free stoves, plus about 200 chimneys, are for low-income Libby households that use old stoves. The industry also is paying for installation.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer plans to be in the northwestern Montana community Thursday to kick off the stove swap organized by agencies at several levels of government and by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, a trade group in Arlington, Va.
The association wants Libby, an old logging town with about 8,000 residents and 1,200 stoves, to become an example for communities around the country that need to deal with excessive air pollution from use of wood for home heating. Given Libby’s relatively small size and other characteristics, the air-quality benefit from removing old stoves and replacing them with models that produce 70 percent less pollution stands to become obvious relatively quickly, association spokesman John Crouch said Wednesday.
“This is the purest example, right now, in the country,” Crouch said. Studies show wood smoke is the source of Libby’s pollution, but in places with more people and industry a number of sources may be to blame, among them power plants and car exhaust.
Libby is the hub of Lincoln County, one of 225 counties in 20 states that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year identified as not meeting air standards intended to protect against microscopic soot. In December the EPA gave the counties three years to devise plans for reducing fine particles and set a deadline of 2010 for compliance with federal standards.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality said at the time that Lincoln County’s problem was centered in Libby, where temperature inversions trap stove smoke. A University of Montana study found the smoke contributed more than 80 percent of air particles so small they are only about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. Some respiratory ailments are blamed on such particles.
Crouch said the stove industry hopes an additional assistance program emerges and that in two years, about 90 percent of Libby’s 1,200 stoves will have been swapped. A “stove fair” with information about alternatives to old stoves is planned this weekend.
Crouch said newer models, often priced between $1,200 and $1,800, burn more cleanly in part because they can handle much hotter fires.
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