Human-caused pollution and meteorological conditions can combine such that our government needs to take immediate and decisive action to protect the environment and the public’s health.
Global warming? Not this time.
No, we took note of the “stagnant air advisory” for our region issued by the weather service, and the “burn ban” issued by Idaho DEQ. And actually, since this happens with some frequency in our region, we thought we might look into what it really means.
The weather advisory, for “elevations in Eastern Washington and the North and Central Idaho panhandle below 3000 feet,” is somewhat terse, but ominous-sounding in its advice: “An air stagnation advisory indicates that light winds and stable conditions are expected…and pollution has the potential to increase to dangerous levels. Persons with respiratory illness should follow their physician’s advice for dealing with high levels of air pollution.”
Although, at the moment, Coeur d’Alene air quality is still in the good range, St. Maries to the south, and Pinehurst to the east are indeed suffering air pollution levels in the moderate range for particulates. The advisory is in place until tomorrow morning (12/30) when a weather front should churn the air up a bit and clear out the smoky haze.
What does it mean? Particulate pollution refers specifically to the very small particles found in smoke that can be breathed deeply into the lungs where they can cause health problems. Moderate air quality means that the air is “acceptable” except that there may be “a moderate health concern for a very small number of people.” These health concerns, however, are no small matter. EPA notes that particulates are linked to increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
DEQ has the power to issue a burn ban “when concentrations of air pollutants reach or exceed the health-based standards or limits established by state law or regulation.” So, as a result, DEQ has issued a mandatory ban on outdoor burning for the entire North Idaho region until, probably, tomorrow. In some valleys, DEQ is also asking for a mandatory halt to residential wood heating unless it is necessary.
This reasonable regulation, based on science-based standards, to protect the environment and the public’s health, is pretty much what government is supposed to do. Right?