Air quality advisory issued in Salmon

SALMON — Polluted air here rose to unhealthy levels Thursday as the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality warned of possible impacts to children, older adults and those with ailments such as heart and lung diseases.

Those who make up the so-called sensitive groups when it comes to air pollution were advised to stay indoors and avoid prolonged exertion even as DEQ recommended all residents limit time and labors outdoors. All outdoor burning is banned until further notice, according to the agency, which will issue its next air quality forecast Friday.

The pollution from smoke, soot and other kinds of particulate matter has been worsened in the Salmon area by a stagnant atmosphere or temperature inversion that can see a layer of cold air trap pollutants near the valley floor rather than allowing them to disperse.

The DEQ alert comes as the community is grappling with air quality problems that have translated into years in which daily amounts of particulate pollution have been shown to be above national standards set to protect human health. Even short-term increases in particle pollution have been linked to death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes, including strokes, and increased mortality among infants and young children, according to the American Lung Association.

Poor air in Salmon is seasonal for the most part, with burning of wood in residential stoves the biggest culprit in winter and smoke from wildfires and prescribed burns mostly to blame in summer and fall.

Concerns over air quality in the area led DEQ last September to urge a citizen advisory committee be formed to craft measures that might be taken to lessen pollution occurrences like the one Thursday.

An action plan to be drafted and ultimately submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the entity that oversees air pollution standards and violations — is meant to show the community is acting in good faith to address its problems rather than being forced to do so by regulators.

Luke Prange, a member of the local Air Shed Advisory Committee, said the panel has met roughly a half-dozen times since its inception last year and is moving forward on projects, including one that would see an electronic sign in downtown Salmon showing current air quality readings.

The project, which proposes a city contribution of several thousand dollars, would allow people access to information about how air may be affecting them or their activities.

“With this real-time information, they could decide whether to light up the burn barrels or take cover to stop breathing bad air,” he said.

Prange said the committee’s most challenging task is to ensure the public understands the importance of clean air.

“We need to think about the detrimental effects of pollution on those who have difficulty breathing, those for whom poor air quality events are painful experiences,” he said. “Pollution curtails people’s activities, impacts their health and overall affects their quality of life.”

Prange added, “We would never knowingly cause people to suffer by holding our hands over their mouths and noses but that’s in effect what is happening and what we, as a community, need to address.”

A public meeting over the issue is planned at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at City Hall, with the purpose to “raise awareness and get the conversation going,” Prange said.

“It’s not ‘my air’ or ‘your air’ – it’s our air,” he added.