Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Air Time: Cooperative projects protect your air

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Members of Ecology’s Air Quality Program work hard to use public dollars to help clean the air you breathe. Here are a couple of examples:

Wildfires and air pollution

Last weekend, Ecology and DNR sponsored the first of several events through our joint effort to reduce dangers from wildfires and air pollution caused by smoke.

On May 15, our agencies and Kittitas County’s solid waste department teamed up to exchange free compost bins for burn barrels. County residents could bring their barrels (which are illegal statewide) to a county landfill and leave with a compost bin.

We ended up collecting 31 burn barrels. Not a bad haul, and one that represents progress in limiting improper burning. Such burning literally can spark wildfires, which threaten people, property, wildlife and the environment. Fine particles in smoke from such fires also pose risks to people who breathe them.

The project is funded by a federal Bureau of Land Management grant.

Last year, DNR and Ecology used a similar grant to sponsor four events – two each in Stevens and Okanogan counties. We collected a total of about 200 burn barrels, which were destroyed.

Now we’re working to schedule more events in several locations around the state. Stay tuned for new event details.

Diesel exhaust emissions and school buses

We’re also working with a number of Washington school districts to continue work to reduce harmful diesel exhaust emissions from school buses.

In Washington, diesel exhaust is the air pollutant most harmful to public health. Breathing tiny, toxic particles in diesel exhaust puts healthy people at risk for respiratory disease and worsens health problems such as asthma and heart and lung disease. Children, who can be exposed to diesel fumes from idling school bus engines, are especially vulnerable. Pound-for-pound, children breathe more air than adults.

Last week, we announced that several districts are eligible for grants to add new, better pollution controls on buses. We’re using money from EPA to fund the work.

This week, we determined that the Manson School District in Chelan County also is eligible for grant money to retrofit an estimated three buses.

This is just the latest round of work, which began in 2003. Since then, the state has invested about $36.7 million to install pollution controls on about 7,700 publicly owned vehicles, including 6,000 school buses. Depending on the type of controls and the vehicle, diesel emissions can be cut by 40 to 90 percent.

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