As the Treasure Valley faces the imminent possibility of violating federal air quality standards, the City of Boise has adopted air-quality as its top issue for the coming year.
To kick off the discussion, the city will host an air-quality summit on Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 150 N. Capital Blvd. The public will hear presentations on the current problem and future plans from agencies involved in the issue, as well as offer testimony during the evening event.
Council President Elaine Clegg said it's all in an effort to get everyone on the same page.
"One of the things I've noticed is there's an assumption that air quality is someone else's issue," she said. "We need a little recognition that we all play a role, and if everyone plays a small role, we could make big progress."
Michael DuBois, airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said the valley has had more poor air-quality days than usual this year, and those days started earlier in the year than normal.
Over the last five years, ozone concentrations in the valley have increased steadily, and that, added to stricter federal ozone standards, has pushed the area alarmingly close to non-attainment standards. If the valley exceeds these standards, federal transportation dollars are put at risk.
While ozone is typically a problem in the hot summer months, when sunlight and heat trigger the chemical reaction that creates ozone, winter months in the valley are plagued by a little thing called PM 2.5.
"Little" is the key word here. PM 2.5 stands for particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller, a measurement far smaller than the width of a human hair.
"It gets stuck in your lungs," DuBois said. "It can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a lot of problems."
This kind of pollution comes not only from vehicle emissions but also from burning, including yard waste and woodstoves. While the DEQ has the ability to issue air-quality warnings, it's up to the local jurisdictions to implement burn bans, and even with these in place, enforcement is difficult at best.
Convincing the public not to burn has proven a challenge.
"The fact is that people don't understand how much of a cumulative effect there is," DuBois said. "They think, 'It's just me.' But there's 50,000 other people who think the same thing: It's inconvenient, it's tradition, it's lifestyle, it's history."
DuBois said it is likely the valley will reach non-attainment in ozone categories next year. If this happens, the DEQ would have to develop an implementation plan that identifies the sources of pollution in the valley, as well as control strategies to bring the problem into acceptable ranges.
Clegg promises the city will take action on air quality from a policy standpoint, including adjusting land-use regulations to include requirements for energy use and recycling, as well as supporting mixed-use developments.
"A lot of the different issues we deal with all the time really have to do with air quality," she said. "It transcends both transportation and land-use policy."
"Inversion season really hasn't even started," DuBois said. "The last thing I want to do is call a burn ban on Christmas."
For more information on the Air Quality Summit, call 208-384-4410. Comments and concerns may also be sent to AirQualitySummit@CityOfBoise.org.