OUR VIEW: Citizen vigilance pays off

By Observer editorial February 28, 2014 07:33 am

La Grande’s air quality has significantly improved in the past 20 years, and now it is safe to say the city’s air quality is among the best in Oregon.

Complaints to the city are way down.

That wasn’t always so. Those who lived here in the early 1990s may remember when the city failed to meet national air quality standards. They may remember winter days when a brown pale hung over the city, thanks to inversions and the basic nature of the bowl-like topography of the Grande Ronde Valley.

In 1992, the city’s air was so bad it was placed in a Special Protection Zone in the Oregon Smoke Management Plan. The city went to work to fight back. It enacted an air quality ordinance with two goals in mind. First, it wanted to prevent future violations. Second, it wanted to improve the health of residents.

The ordinance included a voluntary curtailment program for wood stoves except for those residents with environmentally friendly stoves meeting standards and those who rely solely on wood for heat. Thanks to the voluntary compliance of citizens, the program has been by all measures a rousing success. Tuesday, Brian Finneran of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division said he is confident the state can remove La Grande from the Special Protection Zone.

Citizens, however, need to remain vigilant so that La Grande does not revert to those days when its air quality reached unhealthy levels regularly. They need to check the daily burn call. It’s easy. Just call 541-963-2201 to get the taped message. Or go on the city’s website. Click on city offices, then public works and find the air quality link on the left side. 

Wood smoke can be a danger because of the very small particles emitted through the chimney, which can settle into lungs and have the potential to cause serious respiratory issues. The biggest complaint the city gets are about fires that are left to smoulder. Small, hot fires are better.

Residents who do use wood as a heat source should be conscientious in their wood-burning practices and follow the daily burn call.

If they do, the city that once was a danger zone can boast some of the best air quality in the state.