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Four Montana Counties Get Failing Grade on Air Quality Report

Smoke from frequent wildfires is blamed for poor marks four Montana counties received on a new air-quality report. (jared alden/iStockphotos)
Smoke from frequent wildfires is blamed for poor marks four Montana counties received on a new air-quality report. (jared alden/iStockphotos)
April 21, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. – Four Montana counties – Missoula, Lewis and Clark, Ravalli and Silver Bow – got an F grade in a new report on air pollution from the American Lung Association.

The annual State of the Air report found that when you look at spikes in fine particulate matter, mostly caused by smoky wildfires, Missoula's air is now the 10th most polluted in the country.

And the report found that the city suffered a record number of unhealthy air days from 2012 to 2014.

Ronni Flannery, healthy air director for the American Lung Association in Montana, says the sooty air is a significant health hazard especially for children, the elderly and people with asthma, COPD and diabetes.

"Breathing this in can lead to premature death, asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes as well as lung cancer, and reproductive and developmental harm,” she points out. “So it's serious stuff."

There is some good news, though: Montana's year-round pollution and ozone levels are improving. However, next year's State of the Air report may be even worse, since it will include data from last summer's wildfire season, which extended into the fall.

Flannery says the root problem here is global warming.

"Climate change is posing a special challenge for us,” she stresses. “We're seeing longer and more intense wildfire seasons, which is resulting in impaired air quality, particularly in particulate pollution."

The American Lung Association encourages state and federal leaders to comply with the Clean Power Plan, even though it is tied up in litigation. The plan establishes the first federal controls on greenhouse gas pollution from coal-fired power plants such as Colstrip.


Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT