Air quality worsens in Port Angeles; Jefferson County spared

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

The shroud of stagnant air that blanketed Clallam and Jefferson counties last week has tightened around Port Angeles, increasing chances for a Stage 1 burn ban on uncertified wood stoves in Clallam County east of the Elwha River.

People who use wood as a sole source of heat would be exempt from the ban, said Dan Nelson, spokesman for the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, which monitors air quality in a six-county region.

Jefferson County has been spared the uptick in pollution levels, Nelson said.

But on Friday morning, ORCAA’s air-quality monitor stationed at Stevens Middle School in Port Angeles recorded the second-highest 24-hour level of 2.5-micron-and-larger particulate pollution in ORCAA’s coverage area of Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific and Thurston counties.

The level was 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

The trigger for a Stage 1 burn ban is 25 micrograms.

“During an average winter day, it’s probably in the single digits to low teens,” Nelson said.

“If there are no reductions in the smoke-output pollution levels, we’ll probably have to call a Stage 1 burn ban,” Nelson said.

Lacey, in Thurston County, had recorded a highest level at close to 25 micrograms, while Thurston County overall remains in Stage 1 burn-ban status.

The National Weather Service imposed an air stagnation advisory last week for most of the interior of Western Washington, including the North Olympic Peninsula, in an effort to encourage people to limit their wood-burning.

Extended to Tuesday

The advisory was extended Friday to until noon Tuesday.

“Essentially, we’ve got a big, warm air blanket on top of us holding cold air down to the ground and not letting anything move,” Nelson said.

The advisory could end Wednesday if, as forecast, there is a “substantial weather change” and skies turns windy and rainy, Nelson said.

“That’s what we would need: not just rain but wind, and that’s likely.”

Nelson said ORCAA believes the culprit in the Port Angeles area is smoke from residential wood-burning, given spikes in pollution levels in the mornings and evenings, when people fire up their stoves.

Under a Stage 1 burn ban, smoke from stoves that are not a sole source of heat would not be allowed to be visible for more than 20 minutes after a wood stove is lit.

ORCAA would respond to complaints, not look for violators, Nelson said.

Penalties would vary from a letter of reprimand to $1,000 for serious violations.

“The first contact would almost always be education, basically asking them to comply and providing information on how to comply,” Nelson said.

Wood burning would be allowed in pellet stoves and certified stoves, which adjust air flow to allow complete combustion and substantially reduce the smoke output.

‘Much cleaner’

Jefferson County pollution levels “are nowhere near Port Angeles’,” Nelson said.

“They are actually showing much cleaner air, but we are still in an air stagnation advisory, so I would still encourage people to limit their burning as much as possible for their sake and their neighbors’ sake.”

Smoke-laden air presents problems for those who have difficulty breathing and for the elderly and young.

ORCAA will continue to monitor the air quality throughout the weekend and Monday, Nelson said.

“The big thing is making sure everybody shuts down their outdoor burning,” he added.

“That really helps.”

The Stage 1 ban would apply to the entire area of Clallam County west of the Elwha River because it is easier to enforce on a county-by-county level “than trying to come up with our own set of boundaries,” Nelson said.

“We also look at population density.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 19. 2013 5:27PM
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