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Better breathing by bus

SPOKANE -- Ah, the winter air: crisp, clear, clean -- not. Not, that is, according to several Spokane area health and transit groups behind AirWatch, a seasonal education program.

AirWatch members, like the American Lung Association, say cold, stagnant air that settles in valleys keeps air pollutants from being scattered by the wind. Unmoving winter air, slower commutes on icy roads and wood stoves combine to heap particulates into the atmosphere, AirWatch advocates say.

"Winter is by far our worst season, air quality-wise," says Eric Skelton, director of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority (SCAPCA). Carbon monoxide on an average summer day, for instance, spikes around 2.5 parts per million. On an average winter day, that level reaches almost 4.5.

The program's answer to deteriorating winter air is simple: Ride the bus, especially on cold and clear days (or, of course, walk, ride a bike or carpool). The idea is to reduce the number of automobiles on the road.

Among its members, AirWatch counts the Spokane Transit Authority (STA) and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. To encourage winter mass transit, AirWatch sponsors have created four free bus ride days with STA. The first, on Nov. 14, saw bus rides spike from an average 30,000 rides to 36,000, according to an AirWatch news release.

Don't worry, you haven't missed your chance for a free bus ticket: the other free ride days are Dec. 12, Jan. 9 and Feb. 13.

Money for meth?

SPOKANE -- The Spokane County Meth Action Team continues its series of meth summits on Tuesday, Nov. 27. At the Action Team's meeting last month, representatives from law enforcement, the prosecutor's office, meth treatment and prevention programs, and environmental and health agencies came together for the first time to talk about the growing meth problem in our community. At Tuesday's meeting, the progress since last month's meeting will be discussed.

"We are just trying to reconnect with people and see where every one is at," says Linda Thomson, of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council.

Washington is second only to California when it comes to the number of investigated meth labs this year. Spokane County has the second largest meth problem within the state.

A persistent lack of funding for meth cleanup and prevention was a top issue at the Action Team's last meeting, and unfortunately it doesn't look like the state will be much help. The Office of Financial Management continues to send out bleaker and bleaker budget forecasts, the last one containing a deficit of more than $1.5 billion.

There is some hope though: Just last week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced that she is trying to secure $4 million for fiscal year 2002 to help law enforcement in Washington state battle the booming number of methamphetamine labs. The funding, however, still has several hurdles to clear.

The Spokane County Meth Action Team meets

on Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 8:30-11 am at the Spokane Regional Health District office, 1101

W. College, room 320-321. Call: 922-8383.
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