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Pierce County's Air Quality

Our air quality is typically good in the Puget Sound region for most of the year.  However, we have a problem with very high levels of fine particle pollution in Tacoma and most of Pierce County during the fall and winter months.  These pollution levels are so high that they violate the Clean Air Act and have resulted in our area being designated as a "nonattainment area" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  This designation requires completion of a regulatory plan to clean up the problem and carries stricter rules for businesses and industry within our area.  By law, we are required to clean up our air by 2019.

Air quality in Pierce County is influenced by our topography and the shape of our land, meteorology and weather patterns, and the sources of pollution located in our community.  Industry, cars, trucks and ships emit fine particle pollution, but the biggest source of our wintertime pollution is wood smoke.  Pollution from wood smoke reaches unhealthy levels on cold, clear winter days when air is trapped close to the land ("inversion" conditions) and there is little wind to blow the smoke away.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is working with the Washington Department of Ecology, with input from the Tacoma-Pierce County Clean Air Task Force, to develop a plan to reduce pollution from all sources, particularly wood smoke.  The specific actions to reduce wood smoke pollution are still being finalized, but will likely closely follow the Clean Air Task Force's recommendations to enhance enforcement of burn bans and require removal of older, more polluting "uncertified" wood stoves.