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Missoula Gets Bad Rap On Air Quality Over Wildfire Smoke

photo courtesy of NBC Montana

Air quality specialists are frustrated year after year when the American Lung Association names Missoula as one of the worst cities in America for small particle pollution, making the air unhealthy for certain populations.

Sarah Coefield is an Air Quality Specialist for Missoula County.

“We always get a failing grade because we get hit with wildfire smoke,” Coefield said. “In their calculations, they include all the air quality data regardless of whether we have any power over conditions or not. Wildfire smoke is a serious pollutant, and we have had some serious wildfire smoke, especially in 2015, which was a very bad year. We had smoke packed into our valley, and we had almost a solid week where we had no break from the smoke.”

Coefield said she is very proud to point out the improvements that have been made in reducing winter air pollution in the Missoula valley over the last few decades.

“We used to have really poor air quality in the winter months due to smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces that would get trapped in the valley during an inversion,” she said. “As our air quality program has progressed over the last 20 years or more and the number of those devices greatly decreased, as a result our winter air quality has become better than many other places around the state.But, we still see that summer wildfire smoke.”

Coefield says the wildfires will continue to worsen as the fire seasons lengthen due to climate change leading to a warming planet.

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