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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Inversions Prompt Montana Air Quality Alerts

 Health Effects Category by Air Monitoring Station Based on Average Measured Concentrations of Particulate Matter 2.5 As Of Hour Ending 3:00 PM MST on 12/1/2015
Montana DEQ
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Health Effects Category by Air Monitoring Station Based on Average Measured Concentrations of Particulate Matter 2.5 As Of Hour Ending 3:00 PM MST on 12/1/2015

Recent cold temperatures mean Missoula’s now teetering on the edge of violating federal air quality standards. Inversions have trapped cold, dirty air in the Missoula valley for almost a week.

Air quality has degraded so much, that the local health department issued a Stage 1 Air Alert on Monday afternoon. That means people with heart or lung disease, smokers, the very young and elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exposure.

City/County Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt says that alert could possibly continue through at least Friday.

If the air quality worsens, that could lead to a violation of the federal Clean Air Act, Schmidt says.

"The standard is a daily standard and that is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. [Missoula is] having 24 hour averages or daily standard values of over 30 micrograms per cubic meter. So we’re very close to going over that standard.”

Schmidt says a violation could lead to fines or more air quality rules and regulations imposed on the city.

No visible emissions are currently allowed from any wood stove or other solid burning device without a valid Stage 1 Air Alert Permit. Violators could face an initial warning. Follow-up violations could result in a ticket ranging from $50 to $500 dollars. The health department is already following up on a couple of reported violations.

“High pressure sometimes gives us sunny weather which we all like, but in the wintertime, there’s not enough sun to create heat-outs on the valley floors," Schmidt says. "You get these cold-air pockets from the inversions and that traps all the air pollution in the valleys where we live.”

Schmidt says communities from Hamilton to Bozeman are seeing elevated air pollution levels. 

Click here for the latest air quality readings from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

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