UPDATE 4:30 pm: 7th day of dense smoke, and DEC issued another Air Quality Advisory 2012-05 UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS.
What can DEC do about the poisonous smoke blanketing the Fairbanks area since Saturday, Jan 14?
Enforce limits on excessive and harmful woodsmoke.
State Air Quality Advisories have been in effect since Monday. Not Saturday or Sunday because DEC doesn’t send out public health warnings on weekends. (Yes, really.) A single very special tool materializes on an Air Quality Advisory day: wood-fired heating devices are prohibited from exceeding 50 percent opacity for more than 15 minutes in any hour. [18 AAC 50.075(a)(2)] No other state rule limits woodsmoke, and it’s the only restriction an Air Quality Advisory can invoke.
Where should DEC look?
At chimney tops, also called “the point of release” of the smoke into the air. Reading the density (or opacity) of woodsmoke follows a decades-old procedure:
Visible emissions of exhaust gases from wood-fired heating devices shall be observed at the point of release to the ambient air regardless of the presence of condensed water vapor. [Testing procedures from Alaska Air Quality Control Plan Volume III, Section IV-3, 1983]
Alaska State Law – Pollution Prohibited:
A person may not pollute or add to the pollution of the air, land, subsurface land, or water of the state. AS 46.03.710
The regulation and law are clear. The Air Quality Advisory is clear and describes the woodsmoke limit. How to read woodsmoke is clear. What hasn’t been clear is the air we use for breathing all day long, weekends included.
DEC’s job is to safeguard the air at our schools, workplaces, roadways, recreation areas, and homes. DEC inspectors have never found a violation of the woodsmoke limit, perhaps because they don’t know where to look.
So here’s a tip for DEC: during Air Quality Advisories, look at the chimney tops. If you find excessive smoke, take action! Maybe then all residents, especially vulnerable adults and our children, will have healthy air to breathe.