Don’t kid yourself. A regular winter bad air day–and even a not-so-bad air day–in Fairbanks is worse than anywhere else in the United States. That’s right, Fairbanks has the highest fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution in the nation by far during these ordinary winter bad air days.
Kinda throws a pall on winter tourism, doesn’t it? Well…break out the business plan for “Golden Heart Smoke Tours.” And for the not-faint-of-heart, “Santa’s Smoke Tours.” Respirator fee not included.
Take yesterday and today, Jan. 20 and 21, 2011, for example. The 24-hour average for fine particulate pollution measured in downtown Fairbanks and reported by the Air Quality Index was 46.8 micrograms per cubic meter Jan. 21 and a whopping 79.8 micrograms Jan. 20. Those PM 2.5 levels were UHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS and flat-out UNHEALTHY. These days weren’t particularly high levels, just regular winter bad air days for Fairbanks.
According the American Lung Association’s report State of the Air 2010, the nation’s top five cities for short-term (24-hr) particle pollution during 2006-2008 were:
- Bakersfield, California (Kern Co)
- Fresno-Maderia, California (Fresno Co)
- Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pennsylvania (Allegheny Co)
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, California (LA Co & Riverside Co)
- Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Alabama (Jefferson Co, Shelby Co)
Fairbanks’ data is not showing up much in State of the Air, yet. Acording to the Borough Air Quality Program, PM 2.5 pollution has risen steadly every year here since 2007. In 2009 our PM 2.5 would have to drop by 20% to meet federal attainment standards. We’d love for you to see a current annual breakdown, but it just hasn’t been made available yet. Probably too busy recording residents’ smoke complaints which have kept pace with the rise of smoke, ramping up each year as well.
Our reader and Two Rivers musician traveling in Montana alerted Clean Air Fairbanks to recent “nasty” smoke problems in cities not in the top 5, such as Butte (Silver Bow Co), Missoula, and Bozeman (Gallatin Co). [We’ll add Libby (Lincoln Co), Montana to that list.] While they do have particulate problems and are working on it, those towns didn’t have a single UNHEALTHY day in 2009. Fairbanks had 8 UNHEALTHY days in the winter of 2009/2010 and 24 UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS days.
Have at it yourself. Get recent Fairbanks measurements using the Air Quality Index. Then compare using AIRNow County Comparisons which reports the AIRNow Air Quality Index (a calculated numerical value we’ve converted to PM 2.5 concentrations) for the same 5 cities:
- Bakersfield, California [87 AQI = 29.4 PM 2.5]
- Fresno-Maderia, California [89 AQI = 30.2 PM 2.5]
- Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pennsylvania [45 AQI = 13.9 PM 2.5]
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, California [55 AQI = 17 PM 2.5]
- Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Alabama [21 AQI = 6.5 PM 2.5]
Bakersfield is infamous for having terrible air pollution. What’s not news YET is the “most polluted” cities for short-term particle pollution in the US are far less polluted than a regular winter bad air day in Fairbanks. In a few years when our numbers come in, Fairbanks may be shamed to make the headlines as in this Forbes article.
What will we do in the meantime? Watch the smoke thicken or lower it? Shall we pass a heap of voluntary restrictions, pass up methods that are “too difficult to enforce,” and hope the State will save our bacon? Doing nothing isn’t an option anymore. Doing too little won’t cut the smoke. To bring the concentrations down, we all have to do as much as we can without further delay or excuses.
Fairbanks isn’t the real number one. On some winter bad air days, breathing in North Pole can be more hazardous than in Fairbanks. Check it yourself. For our friends living and raising children in North Pole, it’s more than sad; it’s mortifying.