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Wood smoke causes air pollution in rural areas

By Faith Smith, KECI Reporter, fcronin@keci.com
Published On: Jan 22 2013 09:45:33 PM MST
SEELEY LAKE, Mont. -

Strong inversions across western Montana have forced air quality specialists to put a Stage II air pollution warning into effect.

This means woodstove restrictions are also in effect in larger cities, but what does it mean for rural areas where many people use woodstoves as their main source of heat?

In rural communities like Seeley Lake, residents don't always have the option of using natural gas to heat their homes, so they can either use electricity, propane or burn wood in a stove or fireplace.

Seeley Lake resident Bo Good says most of his neighbors use wood stoves as their primary heat source because it's the most affordable option.

“I grew up burning wood so now I personally don't because I got tired of it,” said Good.  “Now I use propane which is available in Seeley.”

Air quality specialists say in small communities, woodstove burning is a major contributor to residential air pollution, but Good says folks in his community are stepping up to combat the problem.

“There have been a number of EPA stoves installed recently,” said Good.  “They’re high efficiency wood stoves and don't emit the same amount of particulate in the air.”

Condon resident Susan Stone says inversions and wood smoke together can create bad air quality some days. 

“It does affect the air quality and you think rural, oh there's not going to be this sort of air pollution and air quality issues, but it definitely exists here because of inversions,” said Stone. 

Good says he's proud of his community’s efforts to clear the air but he hopes someday other heating options may be made available.

“Really we’re stuck with those three options -- electric, propane and wood,” said Good.  “It’s one of those three things and I think everyone would appreciate natural gas as an alternative.”

In bigger cities like Missoula you have to have a Sole Source Permit to continue using a woodstove during Stage II restrictions.

If you are unsure about whether you need to have a permit where you live, click here.