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the Associated Press

EPA: 7 Western States Fall Below New Air Standards

Todd Dvorak

BOISE, Idaho - Most states west of the Rocky Mountains contain areas that fail to meet new pollution standards for microscopic particles that can cause breathing problems for children and the elderly, federal officials said.

The Environmental Protection Agency released its list Monday of counties, areas or tribal lands that are exceeding daily standards for fine particle pollution caused by emissions from vehicles, industry and wood stoves, among other sources.

In the western United States, Utah, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California and Alaska had "nonattainment areas" exceeding the standards, which were toughened in 2006. Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nevada had no nonattainment areas.

The nonattainment areas "need to build stronger partnerships and work harder to protect their people from adverse health effects of air pollution," said Elin Miller, the EPA's regional administrator in Seattle.

The agency said parts or all of seven counties in northern Utah were not in compliance. Those areas are along the Wasatch Front, which has seen heavy residential and commercial development over the last decade.

Utah Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler said the pollution was likely coming from a variety of sources, including cars and trucks.

"That's why it's no surprise you're seeing it in the urban areas along the Wasatch Front. It's the growing areas, and the more automobiles there are the more pollution there's going to be," she said.

The EPA also put on notice all or part of 30 counties in California, one each in Montana, Washington and Arizona, and two apiece in Oregon and Alaska.

They are among 211 counties in 25 states identified by the EPA as failing to meet air quality standards. The agency said more than 100 million people living in 46 metro areas are breathing air that has gotten too full of soot on some days.

The pollutants in question are extremely small, measuring at one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair. The particles can get deep into the lungs, even entering the bloodstream, and are blamed for respiratory problems, especially in children and elderly.

Fine particle pollution - found in dust, dirt, soot and smoke - has a variety of sources. But the biggest contributors are emissions from vehicles, large livestock operations, power plants, industrial facilities and wood stoves and fireplaces.

High concentrations can also be dictated by geography, such as areas where weather inversions trap dirty air in the bowls formed by surrounding mountains.

EPA scientists used monitoring data collected in 2004, 2005 and 2006 to determine compliance. The listing means states now have three years to work with communities to develop plans for improving air quality in the noncompliant areas, or risk sanctions such as fines.

Researchers say smoke from wood burning stoves used to heat homes was the primary source of problems in locations such as Juneau and Fairbanks, Alaska; Pinehurst, Idaho; and Libby, Mont., where efforts are under way to reduce particulate levels.

In the last two years, government officials have been working on an initiative to replace older wood stoves in the Libby area with cleaner burning models. An estimated 1,000 wood stoves were replaced in the county under the program, which cost about $1.3 million.

"Potentially they could show us 2008 was a good year, and in this case we would think the wood stove change-out had something to do with that," said Callie Videtich, EPA spokeswoman in Denver.

Some of the other areas identified are Nogales, Ariz.; Klamath and Lane counties in Oregon; and Wapato Hills/Puyallup River, Wash.

In Utah, the list includes Salt Lake, Box Elder, Tooele, Weber, Davis, Utah and Cache counties, as well as the Logan area, which also includes part of Franklin County, Idaho.


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