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Geography to blame for another "bad air" report for Missoula - KXLF.com | Continuous News | Butte, Montana

Geography to blame for another "bad air" report for Missoula

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Western Montana is in the cross hairs for fire smoke which has has been part of late summer life here for generations. (MTN News photo) Western Montana is in the cross hairs for fire smoke which has has been part of late summer life here for generations. (MTN News photo)
The American Lung Association lists Missoula as 13th for "bad air" from "short term particulates" in its "State of the Air Report" for 2017. The American Lung Association lists Missoula as 13th for "bad air" from "short term particulates" in its "State of the Air Report" for 2017.
MISSOULA -

It's become an annual story with the American Lung Association once again taking Missoula to task for having some of the worst "short term" air pollution in the country. 

Local air quality managers say there's not much that can be done with Western Montana in the cross hairs for fire smoke which has has been part of late summer life here for generations.

It's one of the downsides of living in the Northern Rockies and once again this year, the American Lung Association lists Missoula as 13th for "bad air" from "short-term particulates" in its "State of the Air Report" for 2017. 

The news doesn't come as a surprise at the Missoula City-County Health Department.

"2016 was a fairly quiet year for wildfire smoke in Missoula. But this report includes 2015, which if you were around, you might recall we had a really rough August where we had smoke coming in from out-of-state, filling the Missoula Valley," said health department Air Quality Specialist Sarah CoQualityAnd it got stuck in the bowl of our valley."

The year 2015, the baseline for this report, was among the worst. We started off with persistent smoke from fires as far away as California and then when blazes started in Idaho and here in Western Montana, it got even worse. 

But given the geography, especially parked next door to the Idaho wilderness, there's not much that can be done. "Our lightning-caused fires in the wilderness, they're going to happen," Coefield said. "And with the prevailing southwesterly winds, we're in line to catch all of that."

However, there's good news. Missoula is tied for first place for the cleanest metro area in the country for ozone, which is created when sunshine blasts through car exhaust.

"We have a climate that is not conducive to that. So we have never really had an ozone problem," Coefield said. "There is an ozone monitor in Missoula but it has never shown us exceeding those standards, which is great."

Still, Coefield notes there's been remarkable progress too. Wood stove controls help during winter inversions and there's far less industrial pollution. Also, alerts work better during those late summer problem stretches.

"We haven't yet figured out how to regulate lightning, so in those situations all we can do is try to get people the best advice we can on how to protect themselves from the smoke. And try to encourage them to be alert to the fact that smoke is bad for you," Coefield said. "Wildfire smoke is harmful to your health and it's important that people take steps to protect themselves." 

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