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Posted on: February 12, 2015

Healthier Air: Pierce County reaches milestone

Nonattainment map

Efforts to reduce unhealthy wood smoke pollution in the Tacoma/Pierce County Smoke Reduction Zone area reached a milestone today when the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved a 10-year action plan and announced the area will be redesignated as in “attainment” with federal air quality standards.

In 2009, the EPA listed the Smoke Reduction Zone as a nonattainment area for violating health-based federal air quality standards for fine particle pollution in colder winter months, mostly due to wood smoke. Nonattainment carries economic, business and health impacts.

“This is an important step, but our work is not done,” said Craig Kenworthy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. “We must continue to maintain healthy air quality in the area in order to stay in federal attainment.”

A task force made up of Tacoma and Pierce County leaders, wood burners and community members assembled in 2011 to develop a roadmap for returning the area into attainment. Their recommendations became the action plan for Puget Sound Clean Air and other local agencies:

  • Use incentives to help residents replace their polluting, uncertified wood stoves and inserts.
  • Increase overall compliance with burn bans by enhancing and increasing enforcement.
  • Implement a Stove Rule prohibiting uncertified wood burning devices after Sept. 30, 2015, in the Smoke Reduction Zone only (residents who qualify may obtain an exemption if their uncertified wood stove is their only adequate source of heat).
  • Execute an ambitious outreach and education campaign to help the public comply with burn bans and remove old, polluting uncertified devices.

"I am proud of all the Pierce County residents who helped us get back into compliance with federal air quality standards by changing out uncertified wood stoves, following wintertime burn bans, and in some cases even stopped burning wood entirely," said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. "Our residents will be healthier and our local economy will be stronger because our air is cleaner. But the work to reduce pollution is not done. I am committed to working with partner agencies to make sure we stay in compliance."

“The removal of old, polluting, uncertified wood stoves is part of the EPA-approved plan,” Kenworthy added. “Without it, we run the risk of returning to levels of fine particle pollution that are above the health-based standard.”

The Washington Department of Ecology worked in partnership with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to submit a plan to the EPA that outlines how to keep the area in attainment for the coming 10 years.

“Meeting air quality standards is vital to public health,” said Stu Clark, air quality program manager for the Washington Department of Ecology. “We’ll continue to remain focused on air quality and meeting the federal standards.”

Multiple local agencies and jurisdictions came together to implement the recommendations of the task force. “Ultimately," concluded Kenworthy, "redesignation was possible because Pierce County residents followed burn bans and removed their old uncertified stoves.”

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