Ellensburg suffering from high levels of particle pollution

ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Ellensburg has a dirty air problem. It tops a list of 50 Washington cities with the most fine particle pollution. The Department of Ecology is now taking action. KIMA learned what's being done to solve it.

There's something in the air in Ellensburg and it isn't good.

"It's just awful. I mean, I can't breathe."

Justin Savage lives in Ellensburg. He's says the air there has been getting worse.

"Somebody with hay fever gets around hay in the wintertime. That's how I feel, like, just normal. Like, walking around town. And, that's not okay."

Data from the Department of Ecology seems to back up Justin's suspicions.

In 2012, Ellensburg ranked as one of the most polluted cities in Washington when it comes to fine particle pollution, topping a list of 50 others.

The city's daily average was almost 39 micrograms per cubic meter. The three-year federal standard is 35.

"We were surprised," said Kittitas County Environmental Health Supervisor, Holly Myers. "We thought that the air quality might have some high levels during the years, but to have it put into that perspective and see those charts was kind of eye-awakening. Kind of an eye-opening experience."

Fine particle pollution from things like soot, dust and smoke is so small it can get past the the body's defenses. Short-term problems include lung irritation, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.

"Long term, the problems are related to inflammation in the lungs, which cause problems for people with underlying heart disease and lung disease, increasing people's risks of heart attacks, cancers," said Ellensburg physician Dr. Mark Larson.

Most of the pollution comes from wood stoves and fireplaces, outdoor burning and wildfires.

Now, the Department of Ecology is stepping in with $200,000 from the state to step up air quality measurements. Money will also go to the Kittitas County Public Health Department to form an air quality advisory committee and find out how much people burn.

The goal is to keep Ellensburg from ending up on the EPA's hit list and earning the stigma of a dirty-air community.

The public health department held a public information event Tuesday evening about the problem.