Washington air quality

The state Department of Ecology said in a news release Thursday the national report reflects that the entire state met federal air quality standards in recent years. That’s an improvement from 1995, when nearly half of the population lived in areas with poor air quality. The state agency’s map shows where high levels of ozone and particle pollution have been seen.

A national air quality report released Wednesday pegs the Puget Sound region as a mixed bag when it comes to air pollution.

The Seattle area has a poor record for particle pollution while Bellingham was deemed cleanest for ozone pollution.

Skagit County, which is geographically between those two metropolitan areas, also got a mention, landing among the cleanest 25 counties when it comes to ozone pollution.

Area officials aren’t surprised.

“Skagit cities all have very good air quality,” Northwest Clean Air Agency Communications Director Katie Skipper said in an email.

The report, the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air, includes air quality data collected by local agencies between 2011 to 2013. The Northwest Clean Air Agency in Mount Vernon collects that information in Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.

The agency uses five monitoring sites, including ones in Anacortes and Mount Vernon.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, the monitoring sites in Anacortes and Mount Vernon showed ozone and particle pollution levels were in the green, which is the top rating, according to the state Department of Ecology.

Skipper said those readings aren’t unusual.

The American Lung Association report tallies levels of ozone and particle pollution at 2,531 monitoring sites across the country. Particle pollution is examined as a year-round average, and in daily spikes.

Ozone and particulate matter are two of six major pollutants for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set national air quality standards. According to the American Lung Association, they are also the most common types of air pollution in the U.S.

Skipper and Skagit County Environmental Public Health Manager Corinne Story said like ozone, particle pollution isn’t much of a concern in the county.

“The only times it becomes a concern is when we have those inversions (when a layer of warm air comes over a cold layer and keeps it stagnant),” Story said. “It acts like a lid and just holds that cold air down near the ground so anything that’s burned doesn’t get through that barrier until there is a storm or wind or something that clears it out.”

Stagnant air is more common in winter and has resulted in temporary burn bans in counties neighboring Skagit to the south and east, Skipper said. Skagit County has not needed to issue any such burn bans.

The county and air agency work closely, the air agency monitoring pollution and the county notifying the community of potential health concerns.

If wildfires around the state during the summer, for example, cause an increase in particle pollution, county health officials may send notices to residents urging those at risk to stay inside, Story said. At-risk groups include the elderly and those with respiratory and heart conditions.*

*Includes clarifications about burn bans and the roles of the county and air agency.

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