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Libby area fails air standards

| July 2, 2004 12:00 AM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially notified Gov. Judy Martz this week that the Libby area is failing to meet new air quality standards, setting a process in motion that will require a mitigation plan to be in effect by the end of 2008.

The Libby area is the only place in the West outside of California to be designated for non-attainment of the new PM-2.5 standards, which regulate fine particulate matter. The standards were adopted in 1997 to deal with smaller particles — such as those coming from industrial fuel combustion, vehicle exhaust and wood stoves — than those regulated under existing PM-10 standards. Fine particles are more closely associated with increased respiratory disease and decreased lung functioning.

The EPA and state officials will have 120 days to negotiate the final boundary for the non-attainment designation. Listings will be finalized in December, and a control plan must be adopted within three years. The EPA will then have one year to review the plan.

According to county sanitarian Ron Anderson, the plan could include a ban on all wood stoves not certified by the EPA.

The Libby area is already listed as a non-compliance area under PM-10 standards. Under that listing, restrictions were put in place on road sanding, and newly installed wood stoves were required to be EPA-certified. Existing non-certified stoves are allowed under a permit system, and emissions are regulated to 20-percent opacity.

Since those restrictions were put into place, the area has not exceeded PM-10 standards, Anderson said.

The University of Montana Center for Environmental Health Sciences is studying Libby¹s PM-2.5 problem and is expected to issue a final report this fall.

The study has already shown that the particulate matter exceeding the maximum allowable concentrations to be organic carbon, which could result from the burning of fuel oil, gasoline, wood or coal. The final report will provide a more definite answer on the source of the problem.

The UM study shows that non-attainment periods have mainly been in the winter months, with some spikes during the forest fire season.