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Marysville rivals downtown Seattle for dirtiest air
MARYSVILLE There seems little doubt there was something in the air locally on Dec. 9, 2007.
And there also seems little doubt it wasnt very healthy.
It most likely was wood smoke, according to several sources, such as Amy Warren, a communications specialist for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
But more to the point, what worries Warren and others at the agency, is what floats inside wood smoke, namely tiny pollutants known as particulate matter.
In many residential neighborhoods, on certain nights of the year, up to 80 percent of the fine particle pollution is from residential wood fires, said Dennis McLerran, executive director of the clean air group. We know that wood smoke pollutants are associated with premature mortality, are harmful to breathe and can cause other health effects.
Among other measurements taken on a regular basis, the clean air agency measures the levels of particulate matter at numerous spots around Puget Sound. One measuring station is at Totem Middle School on Seventh Street.
Back on that specific day in December, Marysville had the highest particulate level recorded by the clean air agency for that month. With 48 micrograms of particulates per cubic meter of air, the pollution in Marysvilles air was worse than in the industrialized section of downtown Seattle, Warren said.
Further, particulates are factored into an overall air quality index. According to federal standards, an air quality index of over 100 creates unsafe conditions for persons susceptible to respiratory and related health problems. On Dec. 9, Marysvilles air index was just into the danger zone at 115.
For the entire month of December, Marysville had the second highest average particulate level, trailing only Darrington, but again beating out downtown Seattle, not to mention Tacoma. The difference between the averages in Seattle and Marysville werent much: 9.3 micrograms per cubic meter of air as opposed to 9.1 per cubic meter. But Warren said its still significant that a largely rural area such as Marysville can compete with Seattle in terms of air pollution.
December is the last month for which the clean air agency has full reports available on its Web site. But at least during winter months, Marysville regularly racks up some of the highest measurements.
For November, the city had the second highest readings for the month, hitting concentrations of 30 micrograms on Nov. 29. The next days readings actually were higher, but the clean air agency disqualified them for technical reasons.
Since wood burning stoves are the most logical explanation for the high particulate levels found in the city, the clean air agency has been sponsoring a wood stove buy-back and rebate program. The primary targets are wood stoves built before 1994.
Weve been very pleased with the response, Warren said.
So far, 245 people have taken out applications for the program, with 161 persons qualified for some type of financial help with replacing their old stoves. The original deadline for the program was advertised as Feb. 29, but that has been extended to April 30.
Since particulate matter is the most significant air problem facing Marysville, what exactly is it?
According to information provided by the clean air agency, particulate matter consists of tiny, solid or aerosol particles in the air. The clean air agency measures two types of particulates: PM10, fine particles measuring ten micrometers in diameter or smaller; and, PM2.5, even more minute particles measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller.
For the sake of perspective: According to the clean air agency, one hair from your head has a diameter of 70 micrometers. PM10 and PM2.5 particulates are a fraction of that size and therefore easily inhaled. For that reason, the clean air agency considers PM2.5 particles the most dangerous of the six air pollutants they measure. The particles especially can pose dangers to children and anyone with respiratory problems, according to Ailene Gagney, an asthma and environmental health program manager for the American Lung Association.
Gagney said PM2.5 particles are tiny enough to reach deep into your lungs, possibly damaging the alveoli, the parts of your lungs through which oxygen is absorbed.
The alveoli are very sensitive and can be permanently scarred, Gagney said.
If they can make into your lungs, Gagney said it only makes sense that particulates can get into your home through closed windows and doors. She said some studies show indoor air can contain up to 70 percent of the pollutants of outdoor air.
In addition to particulate matter, Gagney said wood smoke can contain various toxins, from carbon dioxide to methane. Health risks linked to PM2.5 particles include respiratory disease, decreases in lung function and asthma. The clean air agency claims particulates even can lead to heart attacks and premature death.
According to both Warren and Gagney, the safest wood fires are very hot, fed by plenty of air. Further, with an environmentally friendly fire, little or no smoke escapes your chimney.
If there is a slight wisp, thats good, Warren said.
With possible fines reaching $1,000 per day for violations, the clean air agency regularly issues burn bans depending on weather and air conditions. They also provide daily air quality readings and forecasts. For more information, go to www.pscleanair.org.