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Air Pollution on the Smoky Days

As Eugene’s skies have been smoky and the air hazardous to breathe over the last two days, one thing that hasn’t changed is the amount of industrial pollution, air traffic and car traffic entering the air.

Lane Regional Air Protection Agency Executive Director Merlyn Hough explains that as bad as the air has been, it didn’t reach the level that would require people to stop driving, planes to stop flying and industries to stop polluting.

Industries, airplanes and motor vehicles all pollute to some degree, however the amount of pollution they are allowed to release is regulated at the federal and other government levels.

Under Title 51 of LRAPA’s rules and regulations, it lays out exactly when a shut down would be triggered. This regional policy is governed by the federal Clean Air Act, Hough says, specifically, 40 CFR part 51 subpart H. CFR is Code of Federal Regulations. Coincidentally, both policies use the number 51 for their section names.

“The purpose of that program is to keep air pollution from approaching levels of significant harm,” he says. “But those are a very high threshold before affecting traffic, industry or airport operations.”

Industrial polluters, Hough says, are designed to operate in a “steady state.” This is different, he says from when in the winter people with wood burning stoves are told to stop burning due to adverse air quality, because winter wood stoves follow a cycle of starting up and shutting down. He says that asking industry to start up and shut down can actually exacerbate the pollution versus an ideal of steady state emissions in a well-controlled facility.

According to Hough, industrial emissions were more of a factor during the “normal delightful” air quality of 22 that we had on Aug. 30, than the Sept. 5 air quality of 250, which was caused by wildfire smoke. For example, an emergency plan triggered on the day the area had an air quality rating of 22 would have had more affect on the air than triggering it on the day it reached 250 (very unhealthy). 

To monitor the air quality in Eugene/Springfield, Cottage Grove and Oakridge, go to LRAPA's webpage. The agency has been updating residents on the air quality situation regularly on social media and you can find the Facebook page here.  LRAPA has an opening on its board of directors, for more info go here