‘Western Slope Air Watch’ in effect | PostIndependent.com

‘Western Slope Air Watch’ in effect

Sharon Sullivan

Western Colorado’s wintertime air quality advisory program is currently in effect through Feb. 28, in an attempt to keep Mesa County in compliance with federal air quality conditions and reduce risks to human health.

The Western Slope Air Watch program asks all residents to voluntarily refrain from using fireplaces or non-certified, EPA-approved wood-burning stoves whenever there are temperature inversions when polluted air gets trapped in the valley.

The request is mandatory for Grand Junction and Fruita residents when the county declares “No Burn” days.

The rule does not apply if that’s your only source of heat or for those using gas logs, gas fireplace inserts or EPA-certified wood or pellet stoves.

“Smoke contains fine particulates that reduce visibility and, more importantly, adversely affect people’s health,” Mesa County Air Quality Specialist Ed Brotsky said in a recent news release. “Wood smoke compounds can cause short-term and long-term respiratory problems and may increase risks of developing cancer.”

Infants, small children, the elderly and people with already existing respiratory problems are most at risk.

Improper burning — weather using a certified or non-certified wood stove — can cause heavy pollution, said Brotsky. He has tips for people who heat their homes in that manner that will improve fuel efficiency and cut down on air pollution.

Keep chimneys clean and remove ashes from the fireplace regularly. Also, the hotter the fire, the more the material combusts — as opposed to emitting as smoke.

“A hot fire is key,” for reducing negative impacts on air quality, Brotsky said.

Additionally, residents should use well-seasoned wood that is not painted or otherwise treated — the chemicals are harmful for both inside and outside air quality.

“We also encourage people to use the right size wood stove for their house,” Brotsky said. “If it’s too big you’re not as likely to burn it hot.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, non-certified wood-burning stoves emit 15 to 30 grams of smoke per hour, compared to two to seven grams per hour emitted by EPA-certified stoves.

“That’s a potential emissions reduction of 53-93 percent,” said Karen Sjoberg of Citizens for Clean Air, a group that works locally to solve air quality issues in the Grand Valley. “That’s huge.”

That group would like to see mandatory “No Burn” days be countywide.

Currently, Grand Junction and Fruita require non-certified wood stoves be removed or replaced with EPA-approved stoves when a house is sold. Mesa County only “recommends” such action.

“We’re well known as a tourist and retirement community and we’re on the verge of non-attainment (of federal air quality standards). That would be a stigma not good for the county,” Sjoberg said. “Poor air quality in 2013 (January and February) put Mesa County at risk of violating the national ambient air-quality standard. If we’re not proactive this year, there’s a good possibility we will go into non-attainment.

If that occurs, the federal government would start mandating new regulations for the county. Vehicle exhaust is another large contributor to particulate pollution.

From now through February, the county will issue weekly advisories regarding meteorological conditions and whether it’s OK to burn.

Residents can check the current status by calling 970-248-6990, or by checking the web site at http://www.health.mesacounty.us/environment/air/wsaw/.

The health department recommends additional ways to reduce pollution during No Burn days including refraining from idling vehicles, postponing unnecessary vehicle trips, combining several trips into one, carpooling, using public transportation, and walking.

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