For clean air, we need YOU!
Call, fax, email or write Alaska DEC Commissioner Hartig. Ask him to step up enforcement on smoke complaints and say you want an Air Quality Advisory for the smoke-impacted areas of our borough:
Commissioner Larry Hartig
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, State of Alaska
Phone (907)465-5066, Fax (907)465-5070
Larry Hartig firstname.lastname@example.org
PO Box 111800, Juneau, AK 99801-1800
How Alaska DEC can respond to community needs, make breathing safe again both inside and outside our schools, and protect property values and our economy:
The public nuisance air pollution prohibition (state air quality control regulations, including 18 AAC 50.110) looks good to us, but Alaska DEC may find it too vague and difficult to prove or enforce. Fine. Alaska DEC has four unassailable, objective, verifiable standards for what constitutes a prohibited level of air pollution available. These standards can get right to work to solve our air pollution problem.
If Alaska DEC receives a complaint of black smoke from a wood-heating device or even light smoke from a coal burning boiler, they need to inspect the situation. If a violation is verified, Alaska DEC should promptly issue a cease and desist order (on the spot if possible). As soon as Alaska DEC issues an Air Quality Advisory, complaints of thick smoke from a wood-heating device in that area should also be inspected and, if found in violation, issued a cease and desist order. Emissions in excess of the PM 2.5 ambient air quality standard for the 24-hour average of 35 micrograms per cubic meter interfere with this community’s ability to attain the PM 2.5 ambient air quality standard and must be promptly ordered to cease and desist as well. Extensive smoke problems with wood and coal burning devices have been reported since the winter of 2008/2009, with the number of complaints growing and the season of concern lengthening. The Alaska DEC air quality enforcement using these four standards for what constitutes a prohibited level of air pollution is amply reasonable and will hold up in court.
Alaska DEC has four enforceable rules to protect our children’s air:
1. Black smoke from any wood-heating device is categorically prohibited, 18 AAC 50.075(a)(1). Alaska DEC must issue cease & desist orders to emitters of black smoke from a wood-heating devices. Black is black, no ambiguity there.
2. Visible emissions from wood-heating devices exceeding 50% opacity for more than 15 minutes in any one hour are prohibited after Alaska DEC issues an Air Quality Advisory for that area, 18 AAC 50.075(a)(2) & 18 AAC 50.245(b). Visual screening and analysis of smoke opacity is determined by trained, certified inspectors available within Alaska DEC and is accepted in courts across the land. Eyeballing gets you an approximation, but air quality inspectors have smoke plume opacity down to a verifiable method. Alaska DEC has full discretion to declare an Air Quality Advisory to protect public health, 18 AAC 50.245(b). The only restriction triggered by an Air Quality Advisory is the 50% opacity limit.
An Air Quality Advisory will help protect public health and supports attainment of ambient air quality standards. At the very least, Alaska DEC should immediately establish Air Quality Advisories around every smoke-affected school and playground, especially for smoke-plagued Woodriver Elementary and Watershed Charter where place-based curriculum involve many ventures outside. Smoke exposure has already begun to ramp up this winter on the Woodriver playground. There’s no excuse for delay. No child in our community should inhale dense smoke emanating from wood-burning devices. Hot fires fueled with dry wood have no problem complying with 50% opacity.
3. Emissions from coal burning boilers, excluding condensed water vapor, exceeding 20% opacity for more than three minutes in any one hour are prohibited, unless the boiler began operation before August 15, 1971 in which case the operator may get three additional minutes to comply, 18 AAC 50.055(9)(A). Six minutes per hour max.
4. Interfering with the ambient air quality standards is prohibited. The ambient air quality standard for the 24-hour average concentration of PM 2.5 is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. If a stationary source is exceeding the air quality standard, they are by definition interfering “with the attainment or maintenance of ambient air quality standards,” 18 AAC 50.045(c) & 18 AAC 50.010(1)(B)(ii).
Strengthen Alaska DEC’s capacity to respond to resident complaints:
In order to respond to complaints on a timely basis, Alaska DEC inspectors must have overtime authorization. It has been all too easy to miss inspecting some of the most severe smoke events at night, early in the morning, or after working hours. Families have been woken up at night with their house filling with smoke. Alaska DEC needs to take their calls and be able to respond. Alaska DEC should also establish a wood and coal-heating device 24-hr smoke complaint line. If Alaska DEC is unable to respond to complaints at all hours of the day and night, collaborative efforts need to be initiated with the state troopers and City of Fairbanks police as smoke can be life threatening and is known to increase hospitalizations in our community, State of Alaska Public Health study, 8/30/2010.
Let’s try an Air Quality Advisory. Can’t be any worse than children inhaling smoke at recess and in their classrooms.
What happens if Alaska DEC doesn’t respond to complaints or use enforceable standards?
Nothing will change until 2014 when, by doing nothing, we’ve virtually guaranteed a full-out state-enforced home heating burn ban. 2014 is when our current nonattainment area is required to be in compliance with the Clean Air Act. When the federal push to meet attainment comes down, it may look very much like the joint DEC-City of Juneau control measures required by EPA which consist of a ban on heating with wood (pellet stoves are exempt) on days when a particulate exceedance is anticipated. Juneau’s burn ban days have moved the community into compliance on PM 10.
Applying the Juneau broad-brush approach in Fairbanks could give us burn ban days here too. On those days, responsible woodburners lose the ability to heat with wood just when they want it most, during those long, cold inversions. Smoke problems in our community have gotten out of hand. Responding to residents’ complaints and controlling smoke problems using existing, though underutilized, state regulations can help. Years more of waiting for action pushed from outside the state runs up even more costly health care expenses (passed along to borough taxpayers and through rising insurance premiums), reduces property values, and increases the risk of permanent harm to the developing bodies of our children. Waiting years for EPA to force us to clean our own air may end up banning all woodburning, whether smoke generating or not. In light of the growing public health concerns from rampant smoke pollution, Alaska DEC inaction is a classic cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face act that benefits only the most egregious of air polluters.