Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Spokane area holds the line on carbon monoxide pollution

Photo by Alan Bisson
Photo by Alan Bisson
Today, many people only think about carbon monoxide when they consider high levels inside their homes that are harmful to families and pets. We don’t usually think about the harmful pollution coming from cars and trucks.

Spokane used to have high levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless odorless gas that can be dangerous or deadly at high levels. The good news is that technological progress and continued vigilance means that carbon monoxide is not an air quality threat in Spokane these days. However, the past problems in the city mean that we have to update our plan to ensure that the levels stay low. 

Remember the ‘90s?

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, we worried about carbon monoxide from cars and trucks. Back then, Spokane had levels of the harmful pollutant that were above the federal air quality standard. High carbon monoxide levels in outdoor air increase the risk of health problems, especially in people with heart disease.

So much has changed since then. Vehicles are now equipped with catalytic converters which reduce carbon monoxide emissions significantly. Removing lead from gasoline also made widespread adoption of catalytic converters possible — a double win for air quality!

Nowadays, oxygen sensors and on-board computers help to optimize catalytic converter function.  Vehicle emission technology has vastly improved since the ‘90s. This means the days of high carbon monoxide emissions from cars are behind us.


Spokane air quality has met the federal carbon monoxide standard since 1997 and that’s good news. Even though the area is meeting the standard, Ecology and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency are required to maintain and update the plan that shows Spokane’s carbon monoxide levels will continue to be very low. That plan is now ready for the public to review and comment on.

Visit Ecology’s Maintenance Plan page to see the plan, find out how to comment or request a hearing. You can comment until April 11, 2016.

Carbon monoxide warning
Note that while carbon monoxide is no longer a problem in the outdoor air we breathe, it is still deadly in confined spaces. That’s why homes should have carbon monoxide detectors. A vehicle should never be left running in a garage or other confined space.

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