The county health department is taking steps to address air quality violations that could hurt Butte’s ability to recruit manufacturing businesses.
Meeting these standards is important not only for citizen health, but also for economic reasons – cities that are not compliant with standards have a harder time recruiting manufacturing and industry jobs, officials said.
To address these issues, a public meeting is slated from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, in the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department, 25 W. Front St.
Tony Ward, an associate professor at the University of Montana’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and Kumar Ganesan, the department head of Environmental Engineering at Montana Tech, will present two Butte air quality studies completed recently.
The studies concern microscopic particulate matter in the air – a chemical mass balance study – and a historic overview of the past decade of air quality monitoring data.
Paul Riley, a sanitarian with the health department, said that Butte has been warned that it has exceeded air quality standards. Though Butte’s air quality has improved significantly over the years, the standards have become far more stringent.
Riley said the city is trying to tackle the issues head on.
The city’s biggest challenge is particulate matter mainly caused by wood smoke.
Butte’s monitoring station is at the Greeley School, which is the lowest part of Butte. Cities are required to place their monitoring equipment in the area that potentially has the most trouble meeting standards.
Stephen Coe, a senior air quality planning engineer with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, said that Butte has been on the cusp of violating air quality standards for microscopic particles, also known as PM 2.5.
These might not seem like a big problem, but those particles are especially troublesome for people with breathing issues like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or children.
“PM 2.5 is very difficult on people with respiratory problems – they’re so small they can penetrate the deepest lobes of the lungs,” Riley said.
And violating air quality standards makes it difficult for cities to recruit industrial manufacturers that already have to obtain air quality permits, Coe said. The added burden of opening up shop in a non-attainment area can be too much for a business.
“If a rock crusher or asphalt plant wanted to locate in a non-attainment area, they’d have trouble. It would make it more difficult, for example, for MR to make changes to their facility,’’ Coe said.
Additionally, once a city is in violation, the municipality has five years to attain standards. And from there, the city has to maintain those redoubled efforts for as long as another 20 years.
At the meeting, the public can expect to learn about historic air quality standards – which have greatly improved since the days of smelting – and how to burn wood more efficiently and effectively to cut down on particulate matter.