HELENA — The beginning of November not only marks the beginning of the holiday season for many, but also the beginning of Lewis and Clark County’s air quality season.
After receiving complaints in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and doctors noting higher cases of respiratory problems, Lewis and Clark County adopted the Clean Outdoor Air Ordinance. The topography of the Helena area allows for air to become trapped in the valley thus producing poor quality air under the right conditions.
While the health department monitors the air quality year-round, this ordinance works to ensure clean air during the months from November to March. During that time air is rated on a scale from “good” to “watch” to “poor.” This scale is based on a 24-hour average particulate level in the air and weather forecasts.
During designated poor air quality, the use of non-EPA-certified stoves is prohibited. There are a couple of exceptions to this. For example, if your stove is your only source of heat in your house you can keep using it during poor air quality.
Kurt Lee, owner of Fabulous Flue Chimney sweep, says that the technology in the last 10 years has allowed for very clean burning stoves.
“The last ten years, they've really refined it to where the stoves work well and almost zero emissions. A lot of them are down to 1 gram of smoke per hour going into the air compared to a regular fireplace which might be 20 or 30 grams of smoke an hour. So, they pretty much eliminated smoke, for the most part,” says Lee.
Kurt says the new EPA certified stoves’ ability to burn during poor air quality is an incentive for people to update their household stoves.
Nowadays, federal law requires that all stoves that are sold be EPA certified which basically means that the gases that are released from wood burning stoves are reburned. Any time you have a fuel-burning device in your home it is always important to pair it with a carbon monoxide detector to alert you if harmful gases are building up in your home.
If you would like an update on the current air quality, you can call the 24-hour hotline at 406/447/1644.