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Smog City. Our air quality sucks!

by tacoma1
on 8/20/2009 @ 8:55am
An article in the Seattle PI today says that the EPA thinks we stink. What should we do about it?

"The feds have delayed a decision on whether the Tacoma area should be declared out of compliance with federal air quality standards."

by Erik on 8/20/2009 @ 8:59am
What should we do about it?

Pressure the Port to reduce their pollutants that they have delayed for too long in cleaning up.

What Port candidates stand the best chance of reducing the pollution emitted?

by fredo on 8/20/2009 @ 9:34am
"What should we do about it?"

Increase the B&O tax for all manufacturing and materials processing business and decrease the B&O tax for all non polluting businesses such as tattoo parlors, dueling piano bars, bail bond companies, and belly casting shoppes.

by tacoma1 on 8/20/2009 @ 9:38am
The port is a huge source of air pollution in our city, no doubt. It is also one that is easiest for the general public to overlook, as they are in their own little world over on the tide flats. If one doesn't work down there, one never goes down there (out of sight, out of mind). Also, they bring in so much money to our region, our local politicians aren't likely to want to fight that fight.

I have to admit, I don't know much about the port politcs, but I do know that many ships use the cheapest, dirtiest diesel fuel known to mankind. If we could stop visiting ships from idling at port, that alone would be a big step.

Who should we vote for to help make that change?

Nice idea, but I doubt that it would be a huge impact on local air quality. I would definitely be infavor of a carbon tax, but that would have to be on a national level. I was hoping for local solutions to our local problem.

by jenyum on 8/20/2009 @ 10:15am
When I looked into this a few years back I was told by the Port and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency that fireplaces and woodstoves bear more of a responsibility for the air quality problem than the port. (Not that the port probably couldn't be doing more.)

Smoke from the Puyallup/South Hill area drifts over the East side of Tacoma and downtown and settles.

The wood stove replacement program is now closed and it's not clear if it will be offered again in the winter:

I'd think it would be better to try to get people to make the switch during the summer when they won't be needing their heat sources.

There are some other incentives available but I don't know how well publicized they are.

A big press/outreach campaign to make people aware of these incentives and get them to switch *before* the winter might be helpful. I don't know how many people want to install a new woodstove or replace it with another affordable solution while they are using it as their primary heat source.

by tacoma1 on 8/20/2009 @ 10:40am

Wood smoke is actually one of our biggest polluters. From what I understand, it is one of the biggest factors that puts us over the brink on federal air quality standards. I have to say that certainly the folks over on South Hill are part of the problem. I've also heard that there is a large percentage of homes in South Tacoma that their only source of heat is wood. Wow? How can city code allow that?

That being said, I live in the Old Town area, and on almost any given day, I can smell wood smoke that is originating from my neighborhood. I'm talking about winter, summer, spring or fall. Doesn't seem to matter. When it's warm outside, seems like people like to have an outside fire in the evening. When it's cold outside, I guess a fire in the fireplace is the thing to do. Never mind that you're polluting the neighborhood.

So, upgrading inefficient wood stoves will help the problem, but what about all of the fires we have just because someone wants some ambience? If someone wants to crack some bubbly, start a fire, and get some............. a little pollution is okay, isn't?

Should our city council ban all indoor and outdoor fires? As this is a Pierce County problem, should Pat McCarthy be proactive and get us some results on this?

by jenyum on 8/20/2009 @ 10:59am
You're definitely right, I smell smoke in my neighborhood often enough. In the summer, the neighbors behind us like to have a bonfire in the backyard. (I'm surprised that's legal.)

I wasn't trying to single out South Hill as the only offenders, it's just my understanding that because of geography/wind conditions we often get their smoke here, in addition to our own.

We could probably have different rules/better enforcement with regard to recreational fires but for people who use it as a heat source the issue is a little more complicated.

by NSHDscott on 8/20/2009 @ 11:02am
I looked into the wood stove replacement program when it was still going on, and found that even with the discounts offered, it would still cost me about $3,000 to put a gas insert into my wood fireplace. For only a thousand more I ended up getting a new high-efficiency (95%) furnace that heats the whole house far better. I'm afraid that replacement program was lacking the funds to really incentivize the wood stove owners of Tacoma (who very well may generally be lower-income) to switch to gas.

by dolly varden on 8/20/2009 @ 11:15am
I doubt north Tacoma and Hilltop have more wood smoke than north Seattle or Seattle's central district -- and they both have better air quality. To what can we attribute the difference? What could it be other than the Port and the pulp mill?

by tacoma1 on 8/20/2009 @ 11:17am
As I understand it. We have multiple sources of pollution specific to Pierce County and Tacoma.

1) Wood smoke from single family homes burning wood to stay warm and for ambience.

2) Industrial sources, which of course includes the Port of Tacoma

3} Cars and trucks, which comprises about half of our air pollution. Of course, we have a freeway going through the middle of our city, which doesn't help, and our transit system isn't as widely used as Metro.

by tacoma1 on 8/20/2009 @ 11:17am
Actually, if someone has a bonfire in your neighborhood, it is only legal if the smoke isn't bothering someone.

If the smoke bothers you, you have the right to ask them to put it out. You can also call the fire dept. and they will come over and tell them to put it out. And you can also file a complaint with Puget Sound Clean Air:

"Why wood smoke is harmful to your health
Smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves and from backyard and land-clearing burn piles is composed of fine particles and a toxic mix of other carcinogens that are hazardous to human health. Fine particles are associated with serious health effects, as the tiny size of these pollutants allows them to be easily inhaled, bypassing the immune system and proceeding deep into your lungs, where they can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including premature death.

Our current levels are higher than the health goal established by the Clean Air Agency’s Board of Directors, which is why achieving further reductions in fine particles is one of our top priorities to protect public health. "

@NSHDscott, I have also heard that the wood stove replacement program was not as effective as it should have been.

by fredo on 8/20/2009 @ 12:08pm
Long term solution: Population control by any reasonable means. We simply can't go on over reproducing ourselves. Talk of adding infrastructure to our region so as to serve/invite millions more residents is rubbish.

Short term solution: Encapsulate our pollution in glass art and sell it to tourists as a souvenir of their visit to tacoma.

by tacoma1 on 8/20/2009 @ 12:38pm
Maybe the problem is that other guy................ Not me, not the guy I see every morning when I shave, but someone else...............

Seriously though, if someone knows who at the Port of Tacoma is concerned enough about this to do anything........I'd be willing to vote for them.

As to the wood smoke problem..........thats us.
As to the car and truck exhaust.........ditto.

Anyone willing to leave the car at home just once a week? Cut your vehicle emissions down by 20 percent. Any takers?

by DSTacoma on 8/20/2009 @ 3:23pm
While there are clearly sources of pollution that we can do things about, what about our options to clean the air? I wonder if the rapid deforestation and development of previously semi-rural areas (like South Hill, Graham, etc) has had an impact on our ability to clean the air? While it is a longer term partial solution, if every street were as well treed as N. Yakima I'll bet we'd improve our scores on a number of environmental fronts.

(I remember hearing somewhere that the specific pollutants we were over on were not attributable to the port. Since I've got no source though, this is probably worthless speculation.)

by tacoma1 on 8/20/2009 @ 3:40pm
Good point on the trees............ I almost forgot. Greenies call that carbon offsetting. I'm kinda old school, and call it urban reforestation.

Now, if you can't afford street trees, not to worry. Talk to your neighbors and get a list together. Our highly talented and dedicated urban forestor will set you up. The only catch is that you got to plant em and water em yourself. If your clever, just tell your neighbors that you'll handle the cost, if they stick em in the ground. Remember, while planting - brown side down. If that doesn't work, I understand that Fredo knows some folks that will work real cheap.

Best time to plant is in the fall, so get to planning. Trust me, it took my neighbors months to agree on which free trees to get. The link to free tree heaven is below (Tacoma residents only).

by wildcelticrose on 8/20/2009 @ 5:25pm
When I was out on the Makah Reservation a few weeks ago to go backpacking, a gentleman that works out there for the tribe on an EPA Grant doing air quality monitoring told me that Lake Ozette actually have very high levels of mercury, in part due to wood fires. (there is also the effect where pollution blows in off of the Pacific Ocean).

They have a program where they replace older woods stoves with new ones that meet emission control standards.

If a place like Lake Ozette is polluted, imagine what Tacoma is like, especially when inversion layers hold that wood smoke, as well as industrial and vehicle pollutants in.

by L.S.Erhardt on 8/20/2009 @ 7:11pm
Ever seen the burden of EPA regulations companies in the port work under? Tens of thousands of pages long. It's pretty epic what you have to do to make the Washington DOE and the EPA happy.

by amyk on 8/20/2009 @ 9:42pm
I'm willing to leave my car at home a few days per week in order to have better air quality....

by dolly varden on 8/20/2009 @ 10:48pm
Other cities in the area, including the denser, bigger Seattle, don't have trouble meeting EPA and Ecology Dept. standards. What's our problem?

by jenyum on 8/20/2009 @ 11:14pm
Our problem seems to be that people burn more wood in Pierce County in general, (including Tacoma) and it all kind of settles here.

A public education campaign is probably in order. One that focuses on pollution and its effects on public health and doesn't seem like it's related to the global warming debate. Also, one that takes place through television, the paper, and schools, rather than the internet.

by L.S.Erhardt on 8/20/2009 @ 11:50pm
If everyone in Pierce County limited their TV watching to 1 hr/day or less, that alone could eliminate a metric ass-load of pollution.

Both the environmental kind and the advertising/propaganda kind

by Mofo from the Hood on 8/20/2009 @ 11:59pm
From what I understand, if you put an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator, the baking soda absorbs the smells.

So why not just strategically place open baking soda boxes around Tacoma?

by Nick K. on 8/21/2009 @ 1:28am
Forget about the wood stoves. This thread reminded me of a recent event. When Renton had that HUGE apartment fire at the beginning of July; I watched the massive cloud of smoke rise while at the Seattle Sculpture Park then drove back home to T-Town. I swear ALL of that smoke migrated south and hovered around Tacoma (South End) and Puyallup. So blame King County!

On the plus side, It makes for great sunsets!

by KevinFreitas on 8/21/2009 @ 7:07am
@tacoma1 -- I'll ride my bike to work at least once a week.

by tacoma1 on 8/21/2009 @ 8:41am
I got one, I even did this last night............drink locally............. I mean real local. Drink at your neighborhood establishment. Walk to the pub, and walk back. Drinking and driving ain't a good idea even in Tacoma. You'll save gas, avoid a DUI, get some exercise, and support a local business.

by tacoma1 on 8/21/2009 @ 9:36am
So anyone want to talk about the wind direction. I was thinking that rather than reinventing the wheel here, that all of the studies done regarding the Ruston smelter fallout might be a good indication of where the wind patterns would distribute pollutants. According to the Dept of Ecology studies, the wind pushes from the west, northward.

Doesn't look like we can blame Seattle on this one.

by ixia on 8/21/2009 @ 9:42am
McChord air traffic and vehicle traffic around Fort Lewis have grown immensely since Bush started his wars. Some of the sky behemoths look and sound like they’d qualify for cash for clunkers…

by L.S.Erhardt on 8/21/2009 @ 10:07am
Food for thought:

All the big trucks, trains etc use diesel. The military planes, and all military diesel engines burn JP-8 (which is a kerosene cut).
For those not familiar with them, diesel and JP-8 are very similar, and can be sometimes interchanged. Well, remember this: they are both heavier cuts than gasoline, so they combust less completely. By federal regulations, Diesel (which is heavier than JP-8) is limited to a maximum of 15 ppm (it's usually hydrotreated to 11 or so). JP-8, however, is allowed to go in the hundreds of ppm for sulfur. When a sulfur-containing fuel is burned, a side product is sulfur dioxide, a pollutant that smells like rotten eggs and kinda lingers on for a while. When SO2 is exposed to nitrogen dioxide (another pollutant with a nasty gross brown, smoggy color) as a catalyst, the sulfur dioxide will further oxidize into H2SO4... aka sulfuric acid, thus the precursor to acid rain.
And this is not even touching on the IFO 380 ships burn... that stuff is amazingly dirty. Just one of those running a couple days will pollute more than your car will in it's lifetime.

by tacoma1 on 8/21/2009 @ 6:17pm
What's our problem? Good question.

Found a chart that breaks it down pretty good. Check the link out below, but just to summarize quickly, cars and trucks, produce most of the pollutants. Residential wood burning shows up in the chart as well, and so does marine vessels.

by panachronic on 8/21/2009 @ 8:41pm
"McChord air traffic and vehicle traffic around Fort Lewis have grown immensely since Bush started his wars. Some of the sky behemoths look and sound like they’d qualify for cash for clunkers…"

Oh, right... it's Bush's fault. OK, found the problem. Everybody can go home.

Actually, it's pretty evident that you didn't live around here during the Cold War. These days, McChord is downright serene compared to back when it was a NORAD base.

by L.S.Erhardt on 8/21/2009 @ 10:18pm
During WWII, my grandpa attended Bellarmine. He told me how they'd have to stop class every 5-10 minuets to wait for the planes to pass. Otherwise no one could hear the teacher.

But do we really want to go on this path of blaming Bush? I mean, the guy is at the bottom of my list of favorite presidents, but playing the Bush-Blame-Game is so 2007. Everyone knows Saint Obama is the new Scapegoat in DC. I thought we all knew the sole purpose of the President is to distract us from seeing who's really running the show...

by L.S.Erhardt on 8/21/2009 @ 10:23pm
I we really, really want to point a finger, I'm gonna point it at suburban sprawl and everything that encouraged it.

by tacoma1 on 8/22/2009 @ 7:10am
How will partisan politics help the air quality in Tacoma? Do you have a solution to our current air quality problem? Can you think of something that you can do to help?

Can't say that I was a Bush fan, but he was a supporter of light rail throughout the country. That would be the only nice thing that I can think to say about his administration, so I'll leave it at that.

by fredo on 8/22/2009 @ 8:19am
"...drink locally"

another rare occasion where tacoma1 and fredo agree.