Idaho's Silver Valley Soon Hopes To Meet Federal Air Quality Standards

Jul 5, 2020

The air over the western half of north Idaho's Silver Valley hasn't always been this clear.
Credit Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

For years, Idaho’s Silver Valley has had skies that have failed to meet federal air quality standards. But the air has gradually improved and may soon get an official thumbs up from the government.

For years, pollution belched out of the stack at the Bunker Hill lead smelter. But during the last generation, the real issue has been smoke emitted by wood stoves.

“We’re really, really trying to get people to put in high-quality wood stoves, high-quality chimneys that are going to have a long-term effect," said Dan Smith, the West Silver Valley targeted airshed analyst for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality in Kellogg.

He has led a program that has paid residents to replace their polluting woodstoves with more efficient models.

“The word spreads when a neighbor looks over at his neighbor who used to have a steady stream of smoke pouring out of his chimney and now he looks over and there’s nothing coming out and the neighbor is using two-thirds of the wood he was using before. He starts paying attention. He goes over and talks to his neighbor and he says, ‘Hey, what did you do?’ ‘Well, I did this program and this is cool,'" he said.

That’s one measure Smith’s agency has taken to reduce wood smoke pollution. It has also worked to remove slash piles that have traditionally been burned and it’s now creating a community wood pile where people can take their wood to first be cured so it will burn more cleanly. Smith says his agency still has money for at least another year to continue to fund small improvement projects. He credits the community for buying in to these programs.

“We’re excited about it. This is something that doesn’t happen this rapidly very often. We’re among the top leaders right now in making this work," he said/

He says Idaho has submitted a new air quality maintenance plan to the Environmental Protection Agency. Soon, Smith hopes, the feds will give their blessing and say the west part of the Silver Valley meets air quality standards.