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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane succeeds in reducing carbon monoxide pollution

In this April 5, 2007 file photo, exhaust pipes are seen on a new Ford pickup in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot / Associated Press)
In this April 5, 2007 file photo, exhaust pipes are seen on a new Ford pickup in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot / Associated Press)

Spokane’s work to reduce what was once a serious problem with carbon monoxide pollution has largely succeeded.

Local air-quality officials announced that the Spokane area has won federal approval for a limited plan to keep the air clean when it comes to carbon monoxide emissions.

The new plan may end the mandatory vehicle emission testing that began in 1985. But that won’t happen until the end of 2019 at the earliest, officials said.

Much of the success comes from improved fuel mileage, improved vehicle pollution technology and the use of fuels blended to reduce carbon monoxide emissions.

“The biggest difference was car technology,” said Lisa Woodard, a spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.

Spokane has not violated federal standards for carbon monoxide pollution since 1996, but at one time, the area had hundreds of violations a year.

In 1976, Spokane saw 404 violations of the standard that limits carbon monoxide to no more than 9 parts per million over eight hours. It was declared a “non-attainment” area and had to undertake a strict program to get the problem under control.

Carbon monoxide levels have dropped steadily since; Spokane hasn’t seen a reading of 3 parts per million or higher since 2009.

But the designation led to vehicle emission testing and a requirement that oxygenated fuels be sold during winter, when carbon monoxide accumulates in the lower atmosphere. The addition of ethanol creates oxygenated fuel.

Today, fuels often contain ethanol based on a state requirement, and vehicles continue to create less pollution. At the same time, older vehicles are being replaced.

The city also synchronized stoplights and installed one-way streets to reduce vehicles idling at stoplights downtown.

The closure of the Kaiser Mead plant reduced that location as a source of carbon monoxide.

Spokane County was deemed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to have attained the carbon monoxide standard in 2005, and was required to develop two 10-year maintenance plans. The second of those two plans was approved recently.

“This marks another major milestone in the quest for clean air in the Spokane region,” said Julie Oliver, executive director for the clean air agency in Spokane, in a news release.

Carbon monoxide in concentrated amounts is lethal. But it is also harmful in smaller amounts because it reduces the flow of oxygen to the body’s vital organs and tissues, according to the regional clean air agency.

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