Libby, Montana, a town of about 8,000 residents located in the northwest corner of this giant state, is probably best known for its health problems related to asbestos. But its troubles don’t end there. In this remote and economically depressed area, residents often rely on wood stoves for heat. The result is air pollution that has drawn the attention of the federal government.
Last year, Libby was identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as not meeting air standards intended to protect against microscopic soot. Frequent air inversions trap smoke from the approximately 1,200 stoves in town, resulting in a variety of respiratory ailments.
With the cost of modern, cleaner-burning stoves ranging between $1,200 and $1,800, many Libby residents are unable to replace their older polluting stoves. In this case, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association trade group stepped in and offered to provide 300 new stoves and 200 chimneys to the community for free. With further assistance from the stove industry, the association expects to replace 90 percent of the old stoves within the next two years. It also will pay installation costs. The new stoves create less pollution because they are able to burn so much hotter. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer intends to be on hand for the kickoff of the Libby stove exchange.