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A message from Julie Oliver, Executive Director

This year marks the 50th year that the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency has been working with you for clean air. It is remarkable to look back over 50 years of photos, newspaper clippings, and reports to be reminded of just how far we've come in cleaning up our air.

Pictures of soot covered buildings and black smoke stacks are a thing of the past thanks to the work of industry installing sophisticated air pollution control technologies. Technology has also made our cars much cleaner and our wood stoves less polluting and more efficient.

Most of our well-traveled dirt roads have been paved and residential outdoor burning as a disposal method has been phased-out in many areas. Businesses are supporting commute trip reduction by encouraging employees to use alternatives to driving alone to work. The community continues to work together to address congestion by supporting transit as well as bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly designs.

But our work isn’t done. As the region grows, so do the emissions in our air shed. Efforts to improve air quality and to stay in compliance with health-based standards must continue.

We have new challenges as well. Recent summers have been shrouded in smoke from wildfires burning near and far. Smoke affects us all, especially our most vulnerable residents. In addition to the health concerns from breathing smoke-filled air, there are economic impacts in our communities as well. Outdoor events and recreational opportunities that local residents enjoy and that attract visitors to our area are at risk of low attendance and cancellations.

We do know this. Clean air is a precious resource and we’ll continue our work with residents, businesses and partner agencies. Striving for good air quality now and into the future is well worth the effort.

 

A look back at a 35 year career, reflections by Ron Edgar 

My official hire date with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, then Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority (SCAPCA), is March of 1977 but my first contact with the agency was Earth Day 1970. The first director of SCAPCA, Fred Shiosaki, gave a presentation at my high school. At that point I had no idea that my relationship with Spokane Clean Air would last more than 35 years. A few years later while studying chemistry at EWSC now EWU, I signed up for an internship with SCAPCA where I weighed filters and serviced the monitor at Turnbull Wildlife Refuge near Cheney. A couple of months before I graduated I was told I should apply for the position of Chemist that was opening up at SCAPCA, I did and I got the job. Thirty-five years later I retired as the Chief of Technical Services for the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.

Now at the time I started there were only five employees at the agency so not only did my job include air monitoring I also did inspections and enforcement work. I liked part of the job, air sampling and inspections; on the other hand the enforcement part was much harder for me and not nearly as much fun. That being said it was all interesting, challenging and seldom boring. I don’t think I would have learned as much in so many different areas of air pollution if I had been with a larger agency. 

When I started most of the enforcement was on outdoor burning and commercial and industrial emissions. Sampling at that time was mostly manual methods, TSP samplers and dust fall jars. By the time I retired we had a network of continuous PM10 and PM2.5 monitors. Enforcement still included burning and industrial emissions but added woodstove smoke, asbestos, gas stations, auto body painting and odors. 

In the 70’s CO from cars had Spokane ranked up there with Los Angles for bad air quality, in the 80’s road dust and wood stoves caused violations of TSP and PM10 standards. Through the years sampling has changed and improved from manual method that took days to get results to now continuous methods that give results in minutes. Not only has monitoring improved so has the methods for control of emissions. Industries are cleaner, cars are cleaner, woodstoves are cleaner and more roads are paved and kept clean. All this has resulted in Spokane meeting all current air quality standards.

The agency has grown to 20 employees, the position have become more specialized and the issues more complex.  The challenges continue as the population grows, as new industries move into the area, and new environmental issues such as climate change come to the forefront.

During my 35 years with the agency I have worked with people from federal, state and local agencies, from universities and industry. It has not always been a pleasure or pleasant, least not in the beginning, however as we worked together and listened to each other’s positions, I have almost always found mutual ground to reach a solution.

50 years of clean air progress: 1969 - 2019

We go back a few decades. And now at 50, we celebrate our "golden" anniversary by remembering the people, events and milestones that got us here. In 1968, before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created, the Agency's first Executive Director, Fred Shioshaki, was hired in response to studies indicting we had a real air pollution problem. On January 1, 1969, the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority was fully activated to do business. In 1970, an air quality specialist. These two were shortly joined by a chemist-inspector, and a federal trainee was assigned to the agency.

About ten years ago, we changed our name to Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency. We have a staff of 20 dedicated employees working in areas such as engineering and permitting, compliance and enforcement, outreach and education, and administrative positions.

Back when we began our work, Spokane County was home to 287,500 residents and today we have over 500,000 residents. Given the growth in population, automobiles, and industries, we've made steady improvements in our air quality.

The chart on the left illustrates Spokane County's air quality success story.

It's important to note that over these five decades, especially in the 1970s and 80s, the number and location of air monitoring sites changed as well as air monitoring technology.

Additionally, and in response to health-related studies, air quality standards have been updated throughout this 50 year period to better protect human health and the environment.

 

When the Agency first began its work, there was a brown haze covering the city. The air contained pollutants from many sources, which caused breathing problems and poor visibility. After three decades working to clean up the air, Spokane was officially removed from the “dirty air” list and declared in attainment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2005. Since then, our air quality has remained in compliance with all of the federal, health-based clean air standards. 

We have, however, experienced unhealthy air quality on several days the past few years due to wildfire smoke. While wildfires and dust storms are considered “natural events” and therefore do not affect our compliance status, they do affect the health of our residents.

 

To find out what was in the air and where it was coming from, the agency initially relied on “low-tech” methods, such as chemistry and visual observations. In the early years, sticky tape jars were used to capture pollution. Empty peanut butter jars covered with sticky tape were placed on property downwind from industrial polluters to see if emissions were impacting neighboring properties. Today, sophisticated air quality monitoring stations are located throughout Spokane County, providing real-time data of pollution levels.

 

Smoke, soot and odors from outdoor burning were the source of many citizen complaints.  Backyard burning was a common practice, as was burning piles of construction debris. Residents burned trash outdoors until 1969, when this practice was banned and garbage collection services were expanded. When commercial businesses were no longer allowed to burn, dumpsters were purchased and businesses began recycling cardboard.

Today, outdoor burning for disposal is limited to natural vegetation and only in a few outlying areas of the county. Natural vegetation is picked up at curbside in many areas, and accepted at area recycling/transfer stations.

     

 

Belching smokestacks were common in the early years of air pollution control. Buildings downtown were often discolored from pollution. Industrial and commercial sources of air pollution were a key focus for clean-up. This was a large undertaking for most industries, as air pollution control equipment had to be designed for each process, ordered, shipped, and installed.

Over the years, new equipment and improved operations have dramatically reduced air pollution from the commercial sector, which now accounts for less than 20% of air pollution.

 

 

In the mid 1970s, unleaded gasoline became available and catalytic converters were installed on vehicles. In the mid  80s, the vehicle emissions testing program was initiated to reduce carbon monoxide pollution. Most of our well-traveled dirt roads have been paved. Businesses are supporting commute trip reduction by encouraging employees to use alternatives to driving alone to work. The community continues to work together to address congestion by supporting transit as well as bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly designs. 

 

2019 and beyond

Our work isn’t done. As the region grows, so do the emissions in our air shed. Efforts to improve air quality and to stay in compliance with health-based standards must continue.

 

We have new challenges as well. Recent summers have been shrouded in smoke from wildfires burning near and far. The chart on the left shows that there were 16 days last August when air quality rose above the health-based standard due to wildfire smoke.

Smoke affects us all, especially our most vulnerable residents. In addition to the health concerns from breathing smoke-filled air, there are economic impacts in our communities as well. Outdoor events and recreational opportunities that local residents enjoy and that attract visitors to our area are at risk of low attendance and cancellations.

We do know this. Clean air is a precious resource and we’ll continue our work with residents, businesses and partner agencies. Striving for good air quality now and into the future is well worth the effort. 

 

 

3104 E Augusta Ave, Spokane, WA 99207 · (509) 477-4727 · working with you for clean air

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