I have a unique perspective on air quality. Back in the late 1970s, when I was in the third grade, I was part of a state-funded study looking at how poor air quality impacts kids’ lung health. We kids were given pulmonary function tests, a fancy term for tests that measured how well we could breathe.
Not surprising, those of us living in areas with the highest levels of air pollution (i.e., urban Missoula) showed the greatest amount of decreased lung function. My lungs didn’t work as well as kids who lived in areas with cleaner air. The differences were significant and the damage possibly permanent.
Overall – and thankfully – air quality in Missoula County is much improved since the 1970s. Better regulation of industrial operations and, later, wood stoves, has helped tremendously.
But everything is relative. For the second year in a row, the American Lung Association, in its State of the Air Report, gave Missoula County an F for short-term spikes of particle pollution. The grade is based on the number of our unhealthy air days. Two reports back we received a D; prior to that a C. Not a positive trend.
The challenges we face when it comes to air quality have changed over the years. Hotter, drier summers are bringing more frequent and more intense forest fires. Smoke from these fires hangs in our valley, sometimes for days or weeks on end, significantly contributing to poor air quality. And there are more people and more cars.