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Making Missoula’s grade


School kids aren’t the only ones sweating and/or smiling over report cards this time of year. Colorado College recently released its 2005 State of the Rockies Report Card, and Missoula County came away with grades worthy of grins and grimaces both.

Bryan Hurlbutt, project researcher and co-author of some of the studies, says the report card is a broad look at how communities around the Rockies fare in benchmark categories like environmental toxins, sprawl and civic engagement. Rather than pinpointing the particular problems counties face, he says, the project’s main thrust is to identify general issues and offer regional comparisons.

“This really just touches the surface,” Hurlbutt says. “There are a lot more specifics that need to be looked into.”

Hurlbutt says Missoula County stands out in three categories: We got an “A” for civic engagement and ranked ninth out of 10 counties in regards to sprawl (with 10 being the best), but we ranked seventh out of 61 communities in the release of toxic pollutants.

The toxins ranking is based strictly on facilities’ reported releases of pollutants into the air, water and land each year, Hurlbutt says, and doesn’t reflect actual toxicity levels manifesting in the environment or correlative health threats. Jan Scher, an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department, also stressed that the distinction between emissions and exposure is important when evaluating the big picture. Of the five reporting facilities releasing toxic pollutants in Missoula County (Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, Roseburg Forest Products Company, Stimpson Lumber Company, Borden Chemical Inc., and the Conoco Inc. Products Terminal), the report found that 99 percent of land and water releases and 85 percent of air releases came from Smurfit-Stone Container. Another 13 percent of toxins being released into the air came from Roseburg Forest Products.

Overall, Hurlbutt says, the report card should tell Missoulians what’s working and what could use some improvement: “There’s good and bad going on in Missoula. The county seems to be civically engaged, which is a good indicator of community health. At the same time, there’s a lot of toxic pollution that should be looked into so it doesn’t threaten the other good things in Missoula.”

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