Night sky aurora borealis

50 Years of Clean Air Progress

A glimpse into the past

Smokestacks, like these pictured above, were the focus of our early efforts to combat air pollution in Spokane County.

A look back: 1969-2019

In 2019 we celebrated 50 years of working to improve air quality throughout Spokane County.

In 1969, several years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created, we began our work as the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority.

With a handful of staff, our initial focus was setting up air sampling stations. Air sampling back then was real high tech: fallout buckets and sticky-taped jars. There were high volume particulate samplers on the scene as well.

Our small staff was also working to address the obvious sources of air pollution, mainly the smokestacks belching thick, black smoke. Staff rolled up their sleeves and began contacting industrial and commercial operations, one-by-one, to learn about their processes, products and equipment in order to estimate their emissions.

A lot has happened in these 50 years. The Spokane metro area, once plagued by poor air quality on more days than not, has been in compliance with federal clean air standards since the late 1990s.

While our name has changed from the air pollution control authority to the regional clean air agency, our mission remains intact, to “preserve, enhance and protect Spokane County’s air resource for current and future generations.”

Improving Air Quality – A Success Story

When we began our work in 1969, Spokane County was home to roughly 287,500 residents. Today our population is over 500,000 residents. Given this growth in population, the improvements made to our air quality are quite remarkable.

The chart on the left illustrates Spokane County’s air quality success story. A signficant reduction in the number of unhealthy air quality days while population (and thus businesses and vehicles) continued to expand.

It’s important to note that over these five decades, especially in the 1970s and 80s, the number and location of air monitoring locations changed frequently, as did the technological advances in air pollution measurements.