On 10 days this winter, PM 2.5 pollution levels of UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS or UNHEALTHY spurred Alaska DEC to declare Air Quality Advisories (Dec 1-3, Dec. 7-10, Dec. 15-17). These appear to have been DEC’s first winter AQAs ever. DEC AQ Advisories triggered the 50% opacity safeguard for woodsmoke under 18 AAC 50.075(a)(2) and 18 AAC 50.245(b).
Elevated PM 2.5 concentrations prompted air quality advisories to be declared by the Borough and Alaska DEC. To view current advisories, visit the FNSB air quality index and go to “Links” on the upper right.
During the winter, FNSB Air Quality Index often reports the worst air in the nation (measured at the downtown monitor at 675 7th Ave). To access national air quality information for over 300 cities across the US, visit AIRNow. View daily AQI forecasts as well as real-time AQI conditions and use the AIRNow PM 2.5 concentration to AQI converter. FNSB air quality monitoring data is not reported on AIRNow.
Inspecting smoke complaints has now become Alaska DEC’s “priority.” Yet, as long as 4 hours elapsed before DEC came to inspect a smoky outdoor coal boiler recently and “no violation” was found. 365 days a year–whether during an Air Quality Advisory or not–state regulations prohibit coal boilers from exceeding 20% opacity for more than 3 minutes (limited exceptions may grant an additional 3 minutes), 18 AAC 50.055(a)(9). Under-resourced state inspectors were also recently juggling inspection of local coal-fired power plants which may have been exceeding permitted limits.
Is inspecting smoke emissions really the priority DEC now says it is? Or is DEC stretched too thin to adequately enforce state air pollution standards to protect public health and help meet PM 2.5 attainment? If inspecting smoke complaints is a priority for inspectors, the department needs to provide support such as adequate staffing, overtime authorization, and inspection vehicles to get the job done. Failing to find smoke violations because state inspectors arrived 4 hours late handicaps efforts to protect public health, prevent economic harm, and limits any chances of meeting attainment.
News articles in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner covered the 10 days of elevated fine particulate pollution in early December:
“Air quality reaches unhealthy levels in Fairbanks and an essentially similar article “Cold weather brings air quality advisory to Fairbanks area,” both published 12/15/2010. The articles report on the UNHEALTHY 60.4 microgram per cubic meter measured at the downtown monitor earlier in the day and forecasts cold temperatures until Dec. 17.
“Inversion spurs air quality alert for Fairbanks” 12/2/2010 reports that air quality deteriorated to UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS on Nov. 16. However, DEC failed to declare an Air Quality Advisory on that date which would have triggered the 50% opacity safeguard for woodsmoke.