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Regional News

Spokane Clean Air Celebrates 50th Birthday

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Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency held a celebration of its 50th anniversary Thursday at a ceremony in Riverfront Park. Several dignitaries spoke about the accomplishments of the agency, and there was ceremonial tree planting.

“I would like everyone to join me, just take one deep breath," said county commissioner Al French. "You know if you did that 50 years ago, you’d be choking, hacking, and your eyes would be tearing up right now.”

French opened the ceremony by citing some of the agency’s accomplishments.

The history of the agency goes back to the 1960’s. A study published by the Washington Department of Health on air pollution in Spokane in 1961 showed the city had definite air quality problems. 

The Washington State Clean Air Act of 1967 paved the way for counties to create local boards to regulate air quality and the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority became a real entity in 1969. Along with improved technological advances in automobiles and industrial processes, the Spokane agency helped craft regulations related to wood stoves and road cleaning.

That work allowed the county to meet federal clean air standards in 1994, and in 2005, the U.S. EPA declared the Spokane region in attainment of federal health based standards.

Dr. Bob Lutz of the Regional Health District says the county's air has remained mostly healthy since that time frame.

“Over the past five years, for example, we’ve averaged 263 good days and 92 moderate days. And moderate air quality is still within the standards. So that means over the last five years we have averaged 355 days a year with air quality that’s healthy to breathe. That’s something to celebrate, and be proud of,” said Lutz.

But he cautioned that the next big challenge is to deal with the increasingly bad air caused by the region's wildfires the past few summers.

Clean Air Executive Director Julie Oliver says one of the agency's biggest accomplishments has been to get people with various interests to work together.

“That’s been quite impressive.Sometimes that, over the years, has been contentious. And sometimes people didn’t see a problem or just said not my problem. But people really came together and solved the issues we had. They dug in, and we had complicated issues," Oliver said.

She cites as an example work to fine tune sand used for traction on roads in the winter to have less particulates that wind up in the air. She also cited efforts to get people to switch over to less polluting wood stoves.