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EPA grants boost smoke, disease protection

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Air Filter Hack

Amy Cilimburg, left, and Caroline Lauer of Climate Smart Missoula sit with a simple air cleaner hack using a box fan and furnace filter in Missoula. The inexpensive system can trap airborne hazards like wildfire smoke, which is harmful for the very people most susceptible to the coronavirus.

Local projects to improve indoor air quality, emergency response resources and find chronic wasting disease all won Environmental Protection Agency environmental justice grants last week.

Climate Smart Missoula’s “Clean Air – Healthy Homes” program received a $75,000 grant to expand its wildfire smoke awareness efforts. Members have been reaching out to communities affected by poor air quality from wildfire smoke and inversions, which have become more frequent as western Montana’s fire season has expanded.

In addition to surveying health impacts people report from breathing the smoke, the program has also developed simple and inexpensive air purifiers to distribute to households in need.

“We’re really thrilled,” said Amy Cilimburg, executive director of Climate Smart Missoula. “This is an environmental justice grant, aimed at building health equity for low-income populations. This allows us to step back and meet with people, and then address real issues in the summer like wildfire smoke and extreme heat.”

The grant will also fund collaborations with All Nations Health Center and the Missoula City-County Health Department, Cilimburg said.

Indigenous Vision, a Missoula-based environmental outreach program for Indigenous communities, received a $75,000 grant to deploy detection dogs to sniff out sites of chronic wasting disease in wildlife as well as man-made contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and other hazardous waste on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

The project will team up with Working Dogs 4 Conservation, a Turah-based facility that trains dogs to find specific environmental substances, ranging from weapons and drugs to disease traces such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes received a larger, $200,000 grant to expand its Division of Environmental Protection emergency response capabilities. The money will support air and water quality protection for both people and wildlife on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The CSKT grant was part of the American Rescue Plan’s Collaborative Problem-Solving Award Project, which distributed $4.3 million to 34 organizations nationwide this year.

The Indigenous Vision and Climate Smart Missoula grants came from the EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program. It spread $7.4 million across 99 organizations in 2021. This was the first year the program allowed small nonprofit organizations with 10 or fewer employees to participate.  

“These (grants) will advance a wide variety of projects across our states and tribes, including efforts that will improve climate resilience, healthy indoor environments, sustainable energy use, and water and air quality, in places that need them most,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “I look forward to seeing our grant recipients make progress on the opportunities they’ve identified to enhance the health of their communities.”

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