Fires, stoves give Jackson County a failing air-quality grade

Jackson County air quality received a failing grade from the American Lung Association Wednesday, but the news isn't as bad as it sounds.

Wildfires and wood-burning stoves contributed to an "F" rating for Jackson County's short-term, particle-pollution levels in the association's annual "State of the Air" report.

But the county received a "B" for smog levels and a "pass" for annual particle pollution levels. The report, released Wednesday, reflected data collected from 2007-2009.

"That's good news," said Association Advocacy and Outreach Manager Colleen Hermann-Franzen. "Certainly you look at this year's grades, but (you also) look at the trends over time."

And the trend, when it comes to air quality in Jackson County, seems to be improving.

Jackson County's "B" for smog pollution is an improvement from last year's "C," which reflects decreasing pollution levels from car exhaust and industrial plants. The county would have received an "A" grade, but smog reached an orange level on Aug. 15, 2008.

"For whatever reason in Jackson County, the number of days where ozone levels were too high decreased," Hermann-Franzen said.

States and local governments collect their air-quality data and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency, which then releases it to the public. The American Lung Association analyzes the data and bases its report on the findings.

Jackson County was one of four Oregon counties to receive the lowest rating for short-term particle pollution, alongside Klamath, Lake and Lane counties. This measurement is based on spikes in fine particulate matter, or particles from aerosols, smoke, dust and allergens, during 24-hour cycles, Hermann-Franzen said.

There were 12 days in the study period during which Jackson County levels reached an orange level of severity, meaning the air quality was unhealthful for asthmatics and other individuals more sensitive to poor air quality. It never reached red or purple levels, which reflect unhealthful air quality for all.

According to the report, 19,640 people in Jackson County suffer from asthma, about 9 percent of the population.

The August 2010 Oak Knoll fire should be included in next year's short-term particle-pollution grade.

Increased industry standards could be tied to the trend toward less smog, including updates to machinery, such as filtration systems and scrubbers.

The county's passing grade for annual particle pollution, based on yearly averages, is consistent with a 10-year trend of decreasing particle pollution levels.

Ryan Pfeil is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4468 or email him at

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