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Missoula’s air quality still a complicated puzzle impacted by fires

Posted at 3:35 PM, Apr 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-29 18:47:06-04

MISSOULA – If you consider the “mortal enemy” of healthy air, ozone, Missoula is tied with dozens of cities for the “cleanest air” in the country.

But that all changes come fire season when smoke chokes the valleys and sends people with respiratory problems running indoors for relief.

The findings were released in the 20th annual “State of the Air 2019” report released by the American Lung Association and the results clearly illustrate the climatic conundrum that is Missoula’s air.

On the one hand, Missoula gets high marks for it’s year around air quality for ozone, the kind of pollution generated by cars and industrial sources.

Even with the occasional bout of inversions in the winter, Missoula is tied for “first” with other cities and outranks other communities in the Rockies, where urban growth is escalating seasonal air problems.

But the picture changes dramatically during fire season and again this year, Missoula finds itself in the Top 10 for short term “particle pollution”. In fact, the report says we’re even worse than before, up from 13th two years ago to fifth this year.

Local air quality experts have said that’s all about fire smoke, with the hotter, drier summers, and the geography which creates bad conditions with high particulate counts, even when we don’t have local fires, as smoke pours in from Idaho and points west and northwest.

The report also states Missoula now ranks 11th in annual “particle pollution”, with 11 more days a year when the air quality is harmful than in 2000.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News