Butte-Silver Bow is taking the initial steps to start a wood stove change-out program to improve the air quality in Butte. On November 5, the Butte-Silver Bow Board of Health voted to refer to the Council of Commissioners funding that will enable the Health Department to hire a program manager to lead an initiative to replace or retrofit homeowners’ wood-burning stoves with models that can reduce smoke emissions by as much as 65 to 90 percent – greatly improving air quality in Butte.
The city-county recently published the results of two Butte air quality studies, one that measured airborne microscopic particulate matter and another that reviewed air quality monitoring data from the past decade.
The first study, based on recent data, concludes that 72 percent of Butte’s ambient PM2.5 (particular matter less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter) is caused by wood smoke. PM2.5 is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s designation of fine particle matter, which can be detrimental to the health of individuals – especially those with breathing disorders and young children and seniors. This study and its executive summary were presented by Tony Ward, lead author and associate professor at the University of Montana’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, at a public meeting on November 5. The findings and conclusions of the second, longer-term study supported Ward’s work.
“Implementing a wood stove change-out program will be a critical tool in improving the air quality in our homes and in our city,” said Karen Sullivan, Health Officer for Butte-Silver Bow.
In 2012, the Butte-Silver Bow County Air Quality Program commissioned a Wood Stove Survey in the city of Butte that determined that 13 percent of Butte households burn wood. The results determined that about 5,735 tons of wood was burned per season emitting about 63 tons of smoke particulates into the Butte air shed.
The Butte change-out program will likely be modeled after a similar initiative in Libby, Montana, which was implemented from 2005 through 2007 and has become a model for communities throughout the country addressing wood smoke pollution.
Lincoln County, The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association partnered to create the Libby program that replaced pre-1992 model wood-burning stoves in resident’s homes with EPA-certified stoves. In 2008, a year after the program was in effect, the EPA, Montana DEQ and University of Montana’s preliminary data showed a 872-percent reduction of smoke particles inside homes and a 28-percent reduction outdoors.
“We’re hoping that our contribution will help the health department find the right person to guide this important initiative in our community, said Tim McHugh, Montana Resources VP of Administration and Finance. “We also encourage other local businesses to partner with Butte-Silver Bow to support the wood stove change-out program and help ensure a successful implementation.”
Montana Resources has pledged $138,000 to staff a manager-level position for the first two years of the Butte change-out program.
“We are excited about Montana Resources’ cooperation on this program,” said Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent. “A wood stove change-out program is something we’ve known would improve Butte’s air quality for some time. This funding and partnership will finally allow us to make it a reality.”
The Health Department plans to start recruiting for the position in December.