EPA approves Fairbanks air quality plan
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Borough actions will help address pollution issues but further work needed to fully alleviate particulate levels in winter air
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved a plan submitted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for the improvement of air quality in Fairbanks. In June the federal agency heightened its classification of air quality problems in the city from “moderate” to “serious,” for non-attainment of national air quality standards. DEC’s plan goes some way to addressing the city’s air pollution problems but the “serious” classification still requires the submission of a more comprehensive plan by the end of this year. Under EPA rules, a serious air quality plan requires the implementation of the best available emission control technologies and measures.
“The state and borough have worked hard to implement reasonable measures to improve air quality in the Fairbanks North Star Borough and they have met a significant milestone,” said Tim Hamlin, director of EPA’s Region 10 Office of Air and Waste. “We are encouraged that they will continue these improvements as they turn their focus to developing a more stringent air quality plan. We think that the borough and the community are in the best position to solve this issue locally, and we intend to continue to support their efforts.”
Use of wood stovesThe air quality issue arises primarily because of the widespread use of wood stoves to heat houses during the winter in the Fairbanks area, given the high cost of alternative forms of heating. During severe cold weather, thermal inversions tend to trap the fine particulates from wood smoke close to ground level, causing people to inhale the polluted air.
The state plan for addressing the air quality problem includes the provisions of incentives for the replacement of old, inefficient wood burning stoves with modern wood burning units, prohibiting the emission of dense smoke from chimneys and prohibiting the burning of unseasoned wood. The use of wood burning heaters will be banned during periods when high particulate pollution in the air is anticipated.
The state is using money from a $2.5 million grant from EPA to fund a wood stove change out program, EPA says. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s Interior Energy Project has air quality improvement in the Fairbanks area as one of its objectives: That project aims to increase the use of natural gas for heating buildings in the city and is currently trying to establish an appropriate supply of gas for this purpose from the Cook Inlet basin.