Residents seeking real-time air pollution updates specific to their area may rely on the Borough’s Near-Real-Time AQ Map. Here’s what they’d have found this evening:
The monitor at the North Pole Fire Station, 3288 Hurst Road at Dawson Road, recorded 150 µg/m3 from 6 to 7 PM today. According to EPA, that’s code purple, VERY UNHEALTHY. The Borough’s Near-Real-Time AQ Map incorrectly showed code orange, UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS — two categories lower than the actual readings. The actual rolling 24-hour average during the preceding day was over 175 µg/m3, well into VERY UNHEALTHY levels.
The Borough’s real-time site dangerously misinforms residents that air pollution is less of a problem than it really is. The displays of all four Fairbanks and North Pole locations consistently underreport pollution levels.
When this problem was raised with Dr Jim Conner, Borough air quality manager, Clean Air Fairbanks listened to his belabored explanation that the data point represents the peak number in a hypothetical “Gaussian curve.” The color coding is dictated by the EPA risk level for that hypothetical curve. Yet, by assuming the current hour’s reading is higher than the imaginary set of 23 hours (to fill out the day), the estimated risk representation is likely much lower than is supported by the actual data. [Confused? Talk it out with Dr Conner 459-1325, firstname.lastname@example.org>.] No other air quality department releases real-time information this way, for good reason.
Why does the Borough continue to publish fictitious information that underreports the risk to residents? It is creepy and wrong. According to EPA, “everyone” is harmed by VERY UNHEALTHY levels of air pollution.
It is important that the Borough give the public real-time air pollution information. However, in providing real-time data, the FNSB has failed to use the precautionary principle. Any error in assessing risk should be on the side of caution. It is an abuse of public trust to systemically underestimate risk and misinform residents, thereby placing those seeking current, relevant guidance at greater risk.
Instead, the Borough should report the risk level according to EPA’s Air Quality Index table and include a note at the bottom of the map that the colors represent risk levels from EPA (at 24-hour exposure at this level). This is how it’s done on https://twitter.com/BeijingAir. It is simple and clear, without any made-up numbers.
The latest FNSB tweet (March 29, 2011) from http://twitter.com/AQfairbanks needs to take a tweak from BeijingAir.