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Truckee air quality needs to improve

ANNE GROGAN, Sierra Sun

Federal regulators will soon be declaring “no burn” days in Truckee if air quality does not improve quickly and dramatically, according to Rod Hill of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.

Hill said that air quality in Truckee is the poorest of areas in the NSAQMD, which includes all of Plumas, Sierra and Nevada counties.

Until recently, air quality was evaluated by the amount of particulate matter in the air measuring 10 microns or smaller. A new national ambient air quality standard has reduced the measurable size of offending particulate matter to 2.5 microns, which theoretically should reduce the likelihood of a poor air quality rating. However, that may not be the case in Truckee.

Several factors contribute to Truckee’s poor air quality, including smoke, road sand and engine emissions from automobiles and trains, Hill said. The new national ambient air quality standard almost entirely removes road sand from among particulates contributing to Truckee’s poor air quality, but leaves smoke and engine emissions, both comprised of smaller particulates, among the contributing factors whose presence must be reduced or removed from Truckee’s airshed, according to federal regulations. Eighty-five percent of all smoke particles fit within the new measurable standard.

Two devices have traditionally been used to evaluate air quality according to the former 10 micron standard: a high volume monitor which operates one day in every six days, and a tapered element oscillating microbalance monitor which operates continuously.

When Truckee’s air quality was evaluated using a high volume monitor, air quality rarely exceeded federal standards. However, when air quality in Truckee was evaluated using the tapered element oscillating microbalance monitor, air quality exceeded federally accepted standards many times, Hill said.

Using those results, Truckee’s air quality management would come under federal control as early as July, 1999. However, because a new standard of evaluation has been adopted, NSAQMD officials are hoping that the federal government will require two to three years of additional data before assuming control of Truckee’s air quality management, Hill said. And two to three years may be sufficient for Truckee to reach attainment status of the new national ambient air quality standard.

The town of Truckee and the NSAQMD are working together in several ways to improve Truckee’s air quality.

While entirely eliminating road sand from the Truckee environment is virtually impossible, both agencies are evaluating the possibility of altering the composition of road sand to reduce its impact on air quality. Hill also suggested a local ordinance be adopted that would prevent trains from idling in the downtown area, at least until the EPA’s newly required engine modifications are complete in the year 2004.

The Great Stove Changeout program is another cooperative effort designed to improve Truckee’s air quality and bring it within attainment status of the national ambient air quality standard.

“Where natural gas is available, people are going for it. The pipeline is the key to solving the pollution problem. Seventy-five percent of stoves sold during the Great Stove Changeout are natural gas stoves,” said Skip Stahmer of the Hearth Products Association, a sponsor of the Great Stove Changeout program.

Because natural gas is a clean-burning alternative to wood fuel, the town of Truckee and the NSAQMD have written numerous letters to the Public Utilities Commission, requesting that Southwest Gas be held to its commitment to supply the town of Truckee with a natural gas pipeline.

“We feel the pipeline’s important because of the beneficial air quality impacts associated with it,” town planner Duane Hall said.

Public education is another area in which public and private agencies are working together to improve air quality within the Truckee area. Residents are encouraged to become familiar with the proper use of wood-burning devices, either by consulting the manufacturer or a qualified retailer.

Stahmer said heating with a small, hot fire produces less smoke in the air, and wood should be brought in by June to be properly seasoned for the following winter. Stahmer also suggests that residents avoid overnight use of wood-burning devices to reduce the amount of smoke in the air.

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