[NEWS] Air Pollution in North Pole Worse Than Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Detroit Combined

– by Amanda Bohman, May 25, 2016, Newsminer

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Photo: Eric Engman / News Miner

The highest counts of episodic PM 2.5 particulate pollution reported in the country are coming from a pollution monitor on Hurst Road in North Pole.

The counts are not just high. They are outrageously high — almost twice as high as the next highest community in the nation, according to data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“This level of pollution is rarely experienced in the United States,” said Claudia Vaupel, EPA air planning team leader.

On winter days, when chimneys are churning out smoke and the air is stagnant, a thick haze settles on the area off Badger Road, burning people’s eyes, throats and noses. It’s a health hazard, which is why the EPA requires the pollution monitoring and is urging the state to take action.

New data certified by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in early May shows little meaningful air quality improvement.

State air quality regulator Cindy Heil said the nonattainment area in the Fairbanks North Star Borough continues to lead the nation with the highest design value for short-term particulate pollution.

Three years of data are averaged to come up with a design value, which is a tool used by the EPA to measure progress. The new design value for the Fairbanks borough’s nonattainment area is 124 micrograms per cubic meter. It went down from 139 last year. The design value remains far — the farthest in the country — from the goal of getting below 35.5 micrograms per cubic meter.

“We are still extremely high,” said Ron Lovell, borough air quality manager.

The design value here was much lower in previous years when the monitor of record was in the city of Fairbanks. A few years ago, a monitor was added in North Pole, and that became the official monitoring site last year. Under federal guidelines, the monitor showing the highest pollution counts becomes the official monitor.

“It’s the way the rules are set up,” said Barbara Trost, air monitoring and quality assurance program manager for the DEC.

Last year’s dramatic jump in the design value put the Fairbanks smoke pollution nonattainment area way above some major metropolitan areas who also deal with particulate spikes.

The design value for episodic particulate pollution in Los Angeles last year was 38 micrograms per cubic meter. Salt Lake City’s design value was 43.

The San Joaquin Valley in California, which is showing the second-highest particulate pollution spikes, had a design value of 71 last year.

The American Lung Association also collects PM2.5 pollution data, but analyzes it differently. The organization makes its own list of cities with periodic dirty air and ranked Fairbanks No. 5 in its 2016 State of the Air report. It’s the worst showing that Fairbanks has had on a lung association list of most-polluted cities. Only four areas — all in California — ranked worse than Fairbanks, including Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto.

Fairbanks has been listed among the lung association’s top 10 most-polluted cities since 2013. The borough started climbing the list after 2010 when it ranked 44th for episodic particulate pollution.

READ MORE at Newsminer

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