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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investing $3.5M in Montana climate resiliency projects

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has received $600,000 to reduce wildfire smoke in buildings
Wildfire Smoke
Posted at 12:35 PM, Mar 22, 2024

MISSOULA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brought together Montana organizations for a roundtable discussion in Missoula on Thursday, March 21, 2024, focused on reducing the impacts wildfire smoke has on public health.

EPA regional administrator KC Becker spoke at the meeting about recent investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and Inflation Reduction Act that totaled $3.5 million to Montana governments and agencies.

“Those grants are to help those governments work with community-based organizations on environmental and public health in communities that have disproportional impacts,” Becker said. “Missoula was selected because of all the wildfire impacts in this community.”

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services was awarded $600,000, $1 million was given to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, $1 million was awarded to Missoula County, and $900,000 is being given to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Becker said these government-to-government grants are widely popular because most citizens want smoke-free living.

“How can you argue against cleaner air,” Becker said. “We know that wildfires are going to continue. We know that they have an impact to public health. And so the more we can do to educate people about what they can do to in their own homes and towns to be safe from wildfire impacts is really important.”

Missoula County will use some of its funding to pay for activities in the Air Quality division like Wildfire Smoke Ready Week, along with providing HEPA air cleaners to those who need it.

Sarah Coefield, smoke expert with Missoula County Public Health, said without this funding, many rural communities would go without help.

“It’s a money issue,” Coefield said. “The ability of a jurisdiction to protect its people is really dependent on the funding source that it has for any of these activities.”

Other focuses of the funding will be to inspect the HVAC systems of buildings, as a lack of maintenance is often a cause of wildfire smoke entering workplaces.

This problem can be exacerbated in facilities that house at-risk populations, like senior living homes. The EPA says any exposure to wildfire smoke can be harmful to most people;

“The health effects of particle pollution exposure can range from relatively minor (e.g., eye and respiratory tract irritation) to more serious health effects (e.g., exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death).”