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EPA Says Idaho Must Clean Up The Air In The Silver Valley

Steve Douglas

The EPA has given the state of Idaho notice that a corner of the Idaho panhandle isn't meeting stricter new air quality standards. The agency intends to change that by forcing the state to reduce what are called “fine particulates” in the air.

One likely target will be pollution from wood burning. Wood stoves and outdoor burning are major contributors to air pollution throughout the Northwest -- including Idaho's Silver Valley.

“At night, everybody wants to kind of load up their stove with as much wood as will fit in it and then they turn down the damper,” Idaho regional air quality manager Mark Boyle said. “They kind of starve it for oxygen over the night so it really just smolders all night long. Well, what that does is it really produces a lot of smoke coming out of the chimney.”

Boyle said residents may be asked to change their habits and avoid burning during high-pollution days. The state will also look at ways to help people trade in their old wood stoves for newer, more efficient models. In addition, the EPA designation would restrict new business development that contributes to air pollution.

Similar designations have been made in recent years in Oregon’s Rogue Valley and the Tacoma area.

The designation requires Idaho to create a plan to reduce air pollution in the Silver Valley by the end of 2021.

In 2012, the EPA lowered its threshold for annual levels of fine particulate from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12. An air monitor in Pinehurst shows from 2011 to 2013 particulates averaged 12.8 micrograms per cubic meter.

The affected section is roughly 200 square miles and includes the towns of Kellogg, Pinehurst and Smelterville.