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

Missoula Air Lands On List Of Most Polluted

A closeup satellite image shows a thick layer of wildfire smoke covering Idaho and Montana, September 4, 2017.
NOAA
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A closeup satellite image shows a thick layer of wildfire smoke covering Idaho and Montana, September 4, 2017.

The latest American Lung Association air quality report shows some Montana communities continue to have unhealthy levels of air pollution on a national scale. Wildfires are the main culprit.

According the Lung Association’s most recent "State of the Air" report, the city of Missoula ranks as the 12th most polluted city in the nation for short-term particle pollution.

According to the ALA’s Janice Nolen, particle pollution is essentially made up of microscopic-sized pieces of gunk.

"Some of them are so tiny they can actually pass into the bloodstream. They can have an array of health impacts on your body because of what you’re breathing and where it goes in the body," Nolen says.

The Lung Association says particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, and cardiovascular damage.

The ALA places Ravalli, Lincoln, Lewis and Clark and Missoula on its national list of top 25 counties most polluted by short term pollution.

Nolen points out wildfire smoke is a leading cause of those short-term spikes of poor air quality:

"You guys have had a lot of wildfires up there. You’ve had a lot of other kinds of measures from other places where smoke especially comes into the state from Canada, or other places where wildfires have been. Those can trigger episodes in your community, and that’s the kind of thing we’re counting in there."

People at Risk in 25 U.S. Cities Most Polluted By Short-Term Particle  Pollution.
Credit 2018 State Of The Air report - American Lung Association
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People at Risk in 25 U.S. Cities Most Polluted By Short-Term Particle Pollution. http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/healthy-air/state-of-the-air/sota-2018-full.pdf

One thing the Lung Association is not counting in this year’s air quality report is data from last year’s historic wildfire season. When fire season extended into the school-year in 2017, officials in western Montana scrambled to get air filters to districts hit the hardest by smoke. This year’s rankings of short term air pollution only includes data collected from local, tribal and federal agencies from 2014 through 2016.

"You’ll see, I think, an even bigger impact when we do next year’s report," Nolen says.

The news isn’t all bad. The Lung Association says the city of Missoula’s ranking as the nation’s 12th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution is a one-point improvement from last year. No unhealthy ozone days were recorded in Montana from 2014 through 2016. Ground-level ozone is sometimes called smog and is a lung irritant.

The Lung Association says that while the nation’s air quality is generally improving, it cautions against legislative efforts to weaken measures like the Clean Air Act.

Find more information from the 2018 State of the Air Report from the American Lung Association.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at edward.obrien@umt.edu.
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