By Josh Magill
The Frederickson – Clover Creek Community Council monthly meeting on Saturday morning featured a presentation on air quality in Pierce County. The primary presenters were Alexandria Teague from the Pierce County Planning & Land Services Department, and Kathy Ross from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
The duo began by informing attendees about the increase of cold, dense, stagnant air during the winter months – the so-called temperature inversions that trap air at ground level. Such winter air typically retains much of the particulate matter of unburned wood smoke, thus triggering an increase in negative health impacts. The county experts showed examples of filters plugged with varying degrees of pollution to emphasize the poor air quality in Pierce County.
“We exceed the amount of air pollution allowed in the winter months and are in danger of having federal sanctions brought down on our county if we don’t clean up our air,” Ross said.
Currently, Pierce County’s air is so foul that it has been designated a “non-attainment zone” for air quality, and a federal EPA moratorium has been placed on industrial development within the county – the only county in the state so sanctioned and one of only thirty-two nationwide.
One way to help clean up the air is to use fewer wood burning stoves, which can be inefficient and pollution causing.
Teague explained a “Wood Stove Program” provided to portions of the county by multiple organizations, including the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The portions of the county included are part of an area being dubbed the “smoke reduction zone,” which includes the cities of Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup and Fife, as well as areas in unincorporated Pierce County like Spanaway, South Hill and Frederickson.
The program utilizes a $1.5 million grant from the EPA to assist area residents with the cost of replacing a wood stove that was installed before 1995. Qualified low-income applicants of the program will get the total replacement cost covered, while others can enter a drawing by November 30th to be one of 10 residents to receive a free stove replacement or 250 residents that could receive up to $1,500 towards the replacement costs.
Another option through the same program allows for a buy-back of outdated wood stoves. Residents that are able to bring in their stove will receive $350, while $200 will be paid if the county needs to retrieve a stove.
Teague and Ross also spoke about proper education for wood stove users so they can burn without causing excessive pollution and avoid fines. Burn bans were also discussed, especially how residents can sign up for email or text alerts to learn of burn bans in their area.
Residents are urged to call the air quality complaint line if they see a violation. The Puget Sound Clean Air agency has hired eight more inspectors to check chimneys for smoke and intensify enforcement measures. If a house is found in violation, the owner will get a one-time opportunity to fix the problem before being fined. More information on any of these topics, including the replacement program, can be found online at www.airsafepiercecounty.org and www.pscleanair.org.
Another featured guest of the meeting was Bruce Smith, editor of The Mountain News, who has written extensively on the subject of wood smoke, especially from debris burning. Smith began his comments speaking to the crowd through a respirator and made quite an impression about how important clean air is to residents.
Smith explained that an estimated 20% of all air pollution in Pierce County comes from wood smoke, with roughly two-thirds of that percentage coming from wood stoves and one-third from debris burns, mostly during winter months. All the featured guests claimed an estimated 23,000 wood burning stoves in the county are out of compliance with modern regulations.
Ross stated there are a higher-than-normal numbers of people with asthma in Pierce County, with Smith stating that the Department of Ecology claims 140 county residents die each year due to chronic exposure of wood smoke from all sources, along with close to $200 million spent statewide on health costs to treat those adversely affected by wood smoke.
Some community members in the audience mentioned there are current programs to recycle brush debris for free so a homeowner does not need to burn it, nor pay to have it disposed. Currently, debris burning is banned at all times in Frederickson. South of 224th St, in places like Graham, debris burning is allowed intermittently, and is tightly regulated.
Though debris burning can be easily prohibited, as mulching and composting are viable alternatives, many folks would rather burn. Smith mentioned the possibility that some residents may use wood and debris smoke as a “veiled ethnic cleansing” to smoke-out their disliked neighbors.
Violations of outside burning of debris or brush can be reported to the local fire department, who will respond by putting out the burn, then report the violation to proper authorities.
After the air quality presentation and subsequent discussion, F-CCCC President, Angela Magill, turned to other parts of the agenda. She highlighted the need for businesses to sponsor the council’s 2013 events, such as the Free Family Movie Nights and the annual Freddie Fest.
The movie night will be held on June 28th, while Freddie Fest will take place August 17th and hosted at Sound Life Church on 176th Street E.
Magill further shared the recent happenings in the area of Bethel School District, which has an opening for a new member of the School Board from District 1, as well as new businesses, like Carlisle, which will begin production soon of insulation materials.
The council board also took the opportunity to recognize some local community volunteers for their efforts in Frederickson and the surrounding area. One honor, dubbed – “The Mr. Frederickson Award” – was given to Paul Cusato for his appearance at nearly every community event or meeting over the last year.
The December meeting of the F-CCCC was cancelled due to the holidays, but will resume in on January 19, 2013.
© 2012 Josh Magill