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Lung association puts Fairbanks in top spot for dirty air

PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 5:35 pm
by Wilberforce
Saturday, April 28, 2018
Lung association puts Fairbanks in top spot for dirty air

By Amanda Bohman Apr 24, 2018 Updated Apr 24, 2018 (…)

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks was named the No. 1 most-polluted city for year-round particulate pollution in the American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report.

The Golden Heart City also ranked in the top 10 for episodic particulate pollution — another category — grabbing the No. 4 spot behind communities in California.

Rick Hinkey, manager of the association’s Fairbanks office, called for more public education to combat the problem of PM2.5 particulate pollution, a byproduct of wood smoke.

“We are getting a really good picture of where we are at,” Hinkey said. “It’s a little disheartening in some ways.”

The American Lung Association releases its lists of cleanest and most-polluted cities annually based on air quality data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates particulate pollution under the federal Clean Air Act.

Data for the 2018 State of the Air report came from air quality monitoring information collected in Fairbanks and North Pole in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The association analyzes particle pollution in two ways, looking at average annual pollution levels and short-term spikes.

Fairbanks has for many years ranked in the top 10 for short-term particulate pollution due to cold winter days when chimney stacks are pumping out emissions and the air is stagnant. Last year, Fairbanks landed in the No. 5 spot for episodic particulate pollution.

The city has climbed the list for year-round pollution due to persistent pollution spikes in North Pole, according to Hinkey. Last year, Fairbanks ranked No. 17 for year-round particulate pollution. This year, more data collected by a monitor on Hurst Road in North Pole is being factored into the association’s ranking for year-round pollution.

“Wood-burning stoves in homes continues to be a major source of pollution in the area,” stated an American Lung Association news release.

Hinkey said the information is useful as policymakers look for ways to address smoke pollution.

“What is good about it is we have a better understanding of what we are dealing with,” he said.

A group of community stakeholders is being assembled to explore new air quality regulations in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The mayor’s office is recruiting members from different sectors of the borough. Air Quality Director Nick Czarnecki said once the group is assembled, a facilitator will be brought in to guide the meetings. The results will be provided to the Borough Assembly for review and possible adoption of new air quality regulations.

The borough faces a federal deadline of Dec. 31, 2019, to dramatically lower particle emissions, though local and state air quality officials have said they plan to ask for the deadline to be extended.

There is also an effort to reduce the borough’s ability to regulate air quality. A ballot measure on Oct. 2 will ask voters if they want to prohibit the municipality from regulating home heating.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter:


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Re: Lung association puts Fairbanks in top spot for dirty air

PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2018 4:43 pm
by Wilberforce
Scientists plan study of northern cities’ air quality
May 23, 2018
Sue Mitchell

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks have launched an effort to better understand urban air quality problems in northern cities.

During the next few years, Bill Simpson and Jingqiu Mao of UAF’s Geophysical Institute hope to join international researchers on a large-scale field study to understand the chemistry behind air pollutants in Arctic and sub-Arctic cities.

Fairbanks, Alaska, has the worst year-round air quality out of 187 U.S. cities, according to a 2018 report from the American Lung Association. The ranking is mainly due to particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns across, roughly one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. Simpson and his colleagues want to know where these tiny particles come from and how cold and dark conditions affect them.

As the seasons change and Fairbanks gets less sun, the air near the ground cools and forms a separate layer from the warmer air higher in the atmosphere. This is called an inversion.

During strong inversions from November through January, the air at an elevation of 100 meters above Fairbanks is 14.4 degrees to 18 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the air at ground level, a 2010 study found.

Much like oil floats on water, the lighter, warm air floats on top of the heavier, cold air. Unless the air gets stirred by a strong wind, they don’t mix. This traps surface-emitted pollutants in the lower layer.

A 2012 study estimated that wood smoke accounts for 63 percent of PM 2.5 in Fairbanks and 80 percent in North Pole. Different studies give slightly different percentages, Simpson said, but wood smoke seems to be a significant contributor to the air pollution.

“Knowing that we’re going to be bringing state-of-the-art measurements to this, I think we can be a bit more definitive than prior studies,” he said.

Simpson and his colleagues hope to gather some data with unmanned aerial vehicles, in partnership with the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at UAF. The aircraft would carry sensors vertically from the ground up through the inversion layer. Piloted aircraft can’t fly close to the ground near populated areas, but small drones could.

Many people stand to benefit from this research, Simpson said. The Arctic is home to about 4 million people, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“The problems we have here in Fairbanks are common to other places around the Arctic,” Simpson said. “Using a lot of wood as a heat source is common through Scandinavia and Russia. Having strong inversions is common in northern cities.”

Researchers from around the world met in Fairbanks May 14 and 15 to come up with a plan to learn more about northern air pollution. The 44 researchers, including 11 from other countries, participated in a workshop as part of the Alaska Pollution and Chemical Analysis project, or ALPACA. After coming up with a plan for what to study, the researchers will need to find funding.

“I’d like to see this project hear citizen concerns, hear public concerns and design the strategy to try and increase understanding of the public on the problem. So [it needs to] also have an outreach aspect to it,” Simpson said. “In the long run, I hope that the project will help people understand the problem better, because I think part of the solution is going to be people deciding to do the right thing on burn-ban days.”

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Bill Simpson,; Jingqiu Mao,