I spoke to Sally Markos, public affairs manager for Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, regarding air quality in Eugene and surrounding Oregon areas. I wrote notes as she spoke, and may have made a few minor errors but for the most part, I think I've got it right.
Pollen: The Willamette Valley (farmland, wineries) is approximately 125 miles between here and Portland, a 2 hour drive, and prevailing winds dump the pollens of the valley here in Eugene.
According to Sally, Eugene has... how'd she put it?... the worst pollen issues in the United States.
The valley ends here and like the toe of a sock, pollens get caught. Right now commercial grass seed growers are harvesting, which causes allergies in many people. Zertec, Claritin, allergy shots, eye-drops are popular around here. (I observed many people coughing and sneezing, including me.)
This is the best place worldwide to grow grass seed. It's bought all over the world to make pretty grass lawns.
Now conifer trees may be putting out pollen.
(I don't recall if it was Sally or others who told me pollens aren't a problem here when it rains. I believe my "cold" turns out to be allergies and I won't be waiting for the rain.)
Dust: When farmers plow a lot of dust is created in the air. (This I experienced driving through wine country, which was uncomfortable) When you breathe, you may cough but it's not like breathing fine particulates from smoke and car exhaust, which stays in your lungs. This dust you cough out.
Fires: We have long hot summers and forest fires can be a problem.
Wood Smoke: In the winter, wood smoke is an issue, especially in non-attainment for fine particulate areas like nearby Oakridge and Klamath Falls. Frequently, less affluent people can't get the better stoves, and there areas get very smokey from old wood stoves. Our agency is helping people get better stoves like oil or pellet stoves, which regulates temperature.
2. Where is the cleanest air in Oregon?
Living on any coast is better when away from a city.
Bend is quite clean. In summer though Juniper Trees give some people allergies.
Columbia Gorge, just outside of Portland is pretty clean due to winds from the east. (Sally also mentioned Hillsboro, an outlying area, but I think that's close to farmland, which I've now learned doesn't work for me--pollens/dust)
Portland doesn't have allergy and smoke problems as South Oregon but it's a city. So there will be benzene from autos (a byproduct of combustion) downtown and along freeways.
3. What's your agency & government doing to improve air quality?
Tightened air quality standards, as measured by cubic metres, occurred three years ago when government (EPA) stepped in. (Wondered if one of those times I testified for stricter standards at EPA hearings)
As a result, I now call yellow advisories at lower levels than in the past, which helps to protect people's health.
Helping poorer communities buy better stoves.
To learn about Sally's work and Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, click here.
The cold I thought I had, that tends to clear up when indoors for extended periods, turns out is most likely allergies. I do love Eugene's ambience--pretty small city by a river, loads of beautiful trees especially now with fall leaves--but this air quality doesn't agree with me.
For those of you who don't have allergies or wouldn't let that stop you from exploring Eugene or its famous university, I'll write a Things To Do In Eugene piece... stay tuned.
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