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WHO and WHAT has been smoking out The Watershed School?

Concentrations on March 5 were higher at the Dale Road area charter school than at any other monitor in the Fairbanks North Star Borough or in the United States. The RAMS trailer monitor recorded UNHEALTHY with a 24-hour average of 63 µg/mand a peak of 113 µg/m3. At 9 am, as children were being dropped off at school, PM 2.5 hit 98 µg/m3. This poisonous air pollution was more than double that recorded in North Pole’s frequently toxic “Rectangle of Death” and nearly double the 35 µg/mfederal 24-hr standard.

Click and zoom in on the maps to take a close look at The Watershed School PM 2.5 pollution pit on March 5. Note the two red, tell-tale funnel-shapes feeding into the UNHEALTHY air over Watershed and the nearby neighborhood.

Watershed area sniffer map 3-5-2013

Detail for Watershed: Sniffer Vehicle Map, Fairbanks, Alaska March 5, 2013, about 8:15 to 9 am

Detail for Watershed: March 5, 2013, about 8:15 to 9 am

Virtually dead calm: at the Fairbanks International airport, zero wind was recorded at 9 am.

So, Where’s the Smoke Pollution Coming From?

With calm winds, wood and coal smoke accumulates near it’s source. FNSB sniffer maps help identify smoke sources. Near Watershed, maps appear to pinpoint three significant, repeated emission sources.

A source near Chena Small Tracts Road, across the Chena River to the north:

Chena Small Tracts maps large

At least one chronic source near Fairchild Avenue in the adjacent neighborhood:

Fairchild maps large

Fairchild maps 2 large

A source near Clark Avenue to the southwest:

Clark sniffer maps 2 large

DEC stopped the sources at Woodriver Elementary School. It’s time to fix Watershed.

Thanks to the diligent (and at risk) sniffer vehicle drivers and the FNSB Air Quality program for publishing these maps.

>> Link: data source School Sniffer Maps – 2013

>> Link: The Watershed School 4975 Decathlon Fairbanks, AK 99709 [Google map]

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Better air, finally, for Woodriver. For real this time.

What changed? The Straughns stopped operating their two outdoor wood boilers.

Why did they stop?

Was it the court order, the preliminary injunction signed by Judge Robert Downes February 4?

Click on the maps and zoom in on Woodriver Elementary School to see close-ups BEFORE the OWBs stopped smoking.

FNSB "Sniffer" Vehicle Maps BEFORE Media Coverage of Court Order

FNSB “Sniffer” Vehicle Maps BEFORE Media Coverage of Court Order

Or did they stop because of publicity on the court order?

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner story ran February 14, 2013: Court order shuts down wood boilers by Woodriver.

Poof, the smoke was gone.

Give credit where credit’s due. Thank you, FDNM. Thank you, DEC. Thank you, FNSB sniffer vehicle!

Woodriver Elementary is in the clear, even when other areas are hot with air pollution. See the AFTER maps below.

FNSB "Sniffer" Vehicle Maps AFTER Media Coverage of Court Order

FNSB “Sniffer” Vehicle Maps AFTER Media Coverage of Court Order

Whatever it was, we’re grateful the Straughns finally got the message.

Do you catch yourself wondering if they feel a burden of responsibility for the harm? Harm from smoke that caused asthma attacks in children who came to school to learn. Harm from smoke that forced teachers to arm themselves with inhalers. Harm from smoke that hazarded a newborn beginning a life, sent mothers into invasive surgery, kept workers from their jobs, prevented neighbors from enjoying their yards, and risked treasured elders gone too soon.

First complaint to last smoke plume (Aug 20, 2008 to Feb 13, 2013):

1,639 days of smoke

4 years, 5 months, 25 days

What we now know:

  1. Stopping the source of smoke fixes the problem in a single day.
  2. Healthy air for Woodriver makes a compelling case for enforcement. Urgent action is needed to save more neighborhoods in Fairbanks and North Pole.
  3. The sniffer vehicle maps pinpoint smoke sources.

Woodriver Background: The two hydronic heaters were installed outside two rental duplexes directly across the street from Woodriver Elementary in 2008. Over the years, the owners were encouraged, including by State Representative Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole), to take steps to reduce the smoke. Nothing worked: taller chimneys, drier wood, and installation of two ClearStak CS-100 electric retrofit catalysts. The catalysts retail for $2,395 each but were provided and maintained for free through a state grant orchestrated by Rep Wilson. According to ClearStak, the patented “intelligent” CS-100 “virtually eliminates the nuisance of smoke generated by OWBs.” The owners were offered $7,500 for each from the Borough’s hydronic heater removal program, but didn’t reply. On Jan 3, 2013, the state filed a civil case against the owners, Andrew and Gloria Straughn.

Read 140 complaints filed with the state and borough here.
Read posts about Woodriver’s lengthy smoke ordeal here.

>> Link to smoke maps: Fairbanks North Star Borough “sniffer” vehicle maps, current

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On Feb 6, 2013, Jeanne Olson appealed the Borough’s proposal to locate a new elementary school and 115 homes in a 634-acre parcel of Borough land along Brock Road, Repp Road, and Hollowell Road. The elementary school would be sited in the SE corner of the parcel, see map below.

“Sniffer” Vehicle PM 2.5 Air Sampling on Feb 16, 2011, Showing Proposed Site for New School and Subdivision in “Unhealthy” Pollution

The appeal cited the Platting Board’s lack of consideration of known hazards in the area including air pollution and WWII-era military waste. In addition, the appeal questioned the disregard of key input from the Brock Road Working Group.

Other appeal points included the lack of consideration of the “hardship” on the private sector that would be caused by this Borough development in “an already saturated and uncertain” real estate market, customary trail use, school siting concerns including obstacles to development of large volume water and septic systems necessary for a school, and inadequate public notice.

The appeal will be heard by the Planning Commission, and their decision is appealable to the superior court. No date has been set for the Planning Commission appeal hearing.

>> Link: Elbasan Acres Appeal, filed 2/6/2013 PDF
>> Link: Platting Board full agenda packet, 1/30/2013 pp 37-57
>> Link: Borough platting board OKs subdivision plan FDNM 2/1/2013, reporter: Mary Beth Smetzer <msmetzer@newsminer.com>

For more information or to offer assistance, contact Jeanne Olson, <corvi@mosquitonet.com>.

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[UPDATE 1/30/2013: FDNM article Residents concerned with air quality, plot size of Badger Road subdivision plan. What’s essential in choosing a site for a school? Health and safety. On Nov 18, 2012, Superintendent Pete Lewis wrote that Elbasan Acres should “…work well for a new elementary school….and could conceivably serve as a secondary school site….” Then gives his own ‘Heck of a job, Brownie’, “We appreciate the planning consideration and effort that went into this site development and commend you and the borough staff for the good work.” p 48 Assembly Full agenda packet]

How can the Borough fail to consider air pollution in selecting a school site?

The Borough has proposed an elementary school in the SE corner of the Elbasan Acres parcel. A pollution pit, see map below.

Blue Square Marks Elbasan Acres using 1-20-2011 FNSB Map for North Pole

The FNSB Platting Board will meet Wed, Jan 30 @ 6 pm Assembly Chambers to subdivide 634 acres of Borough land in North Pole for development. “Elbasan Acres,” a new housing development of 115 homes, would go into a low-lying area near Brock Rd/Repp Rd/Hollowell Rd. The new elementary school would be built on 56 acres of adjacent land at the NW corner of the Repp Rd/Hollowell Rd intersection.

Compare North Pole with Fairbanks on the same day, Feb 16, 2011.

Blue Square Marks Elbasan Acres using 2-16-2011 FNSB Map for North Pole

PM 2.5 Concentrations in the Fairbanks Bowl, Feb 16, 2011 from 10:17 AM, Fairbanks, Alaska

Borough maps confirm what residents of the area know: the air is thick with smoke. Adding new emission sources to a pollution pit is irresponsible. Choosing to locate a new elementary school in a pollution pit is even worse. It is inhumane to endanger the health and safety of future school employees and elementary students. Knowing the harm but going ahead anyway makes the Borough and School Board legally negligent and culpable. Future injured employees and elementary school parents on behalf of their injured children will be in a position to drain the Borough’s assets to recover costs and damages.

Before going further with plans for a major new subdivision and elementary school, the Borough should add the area to its sniffer vehicle routes. The current North Pole sniffer run goes by existing schools but not the proposed site for the new elementary school.

Smoke exposure can cause asthma, COPD, chemical sensitivity, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, blood clots, and many other problems. It is implicated as a factor in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ear infections, respiratory infections, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and influenza. It has been documented to lower IQ and to increase workplace absences, school sick days, hospitalizations, and deaths. Most of the studies have been on populations exposed to far lower levels than are common in neighborhoods here and have found a linear relationship between exposure and harm.

Proposed north pole school dec-2009-np

Blue Square Marks Proposed North Pole School Site

The proposed development falls just outside the PM 2.5 nonattainment boundary [link to nonattainment map]. Emissions from the development can be expected to flow into the nonattainment area, making meeting attainment more difficult. The closest monitor is the North Pole Fire Station.

Link 48 Days of Smoke in Rectangle of Death AK 99705 [Graph]

The Borough’s main interest is to develop the housing to offset costs of building the school. As a short-term budget scheme, it sounds like a winner. But adding new homes on top of the very stagnant real estate market in North Pole, with over a year inventory of unsold homes, will depress property values and sales yet further. Then toss in the concern that by the time the school is built, the need may no longer exist. Is a school still needed given the families relocating out of the area? This bad idea does not protect taxpayers, home sellers and buyers, teachers, or children.

Someone will say trust Alaska DEC to control the air pollution. Based on what evidence? DEC has filed a single case against a violator, the Woodriver landlords, not several as some believe. That case, 4FA-13-01205CI, may be followed on CourtView. DEC isn’t keeping the PM 2.5 nonattainment schedule; they failed to send EPA their plan to meet attainment that was due Dec 14, 2012. The state has no plan for reducing smoke pollution. Hope is not a strategy.

Borough planners may not have talked with the air quality division or seen the maps. Right hand, meet left hand. Well, they should. In 2009, EPA accepted a smaller nonattainment area than what they’d initially proposed, and now, utterly oblivious to health and safety, the Borough proposes development on the edge of the nonattainment boundary that will make meeting attainment and protecting public health more challenging than ever. If the development goes through, there will be a need to either control pollution outside the PM 2.5 nonattainment boundary or to enlarge the area, just as is needed in Moose Creek, Alaska.

The Jan 30 meeting was rescheduled from the regular Jan 16 meeting. The Platting Board is required to consider health and safety issues. Testimony is limited to three minutes per person except for the applicant.

Link: Full agenda packet pp 37-57

For more information, please contact Jeanne Olson <corvi@mosquitonet.com> 488-8800/488-2906.

Time for the Borough to take the long view instead of trying to squeeze revenue from their land when the North Pole housing market is saturated. Time to consider how this scheme risks the assets and holdings of the Borough as well as the health of elementary age children and their teachers.

Time to stop ignoring air quality, hoping a gust of wind will carry it away.

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UNHEALTHY and VERY UNHEALTHY air pollution in Fairbanks and North Pole is now in its sixth day.

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:

FNSB Near-Real-Time AQ Map

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 purpleVERY 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, jconner@fnsb.us>.] 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.

>>Link to EPA’s Air Quality Index Categories with Cautionary and Health Statements

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Unofficial Results for Prop 2 Election Oct 4, 2011

The Borough Clerk’s office released updated unofficial election results. These updated results include absentee, early in-person, and question ballots.

Voter turnout on Proposition 2, the Healthy Air Protection Act, was 24%. 76%, 52,374 registered voters, did not vote on Prop 2.

From these unofficial results, Prop 2 was opposed by 59.3% and supported by 40.7%.

FNSB updated unofficial results 10/4/2011 election

FDNM: Fairbanks voters reject Proposition 2 air quality measure 10/5/2011

KUAC Morning Newscast, 10/5/2011 by Dan Bross, 00:00 – 02:04

KTVF Web Center 11: video clip 10/5/2011, video clip 10/4/2011, and print summary 10/5/2011

Sunstar: ASUAF hosts Prop. 2 debate 10/11/2011

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2011-2-15 Downtown Fairbanks, Alaska

PM 2.5 Concentrations in Downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, Feb 15, 2011, from 5:55 PM

This PM 2.5 concentration map is from data collected by the Fairbanks North Star Borough instrumented “sniffer” vehicle traveling on public roads in Fairbanks, Alaska. Schools in the area are Barnette and Denali Elementary.

This map is an instantaneous snapshot of what was happening at that time, not a 24-hour average or a 1-hour average.

The contours (colors) correspond to EPA PM 2.5 24- hour levels from the Air Quality Index chart. To better understand, view: Judging Particulate Levels In Your Area.

The legend shows approximate locations of coal and wood heaters and woodstoves. Some of the heating sources shown on the map may have changed over time or may not be in use. The PM 2.5 concentration maps do not show all possible area sources.

 The maps capture areawide PM 2.5 concentrations at the time of the sniffer vehicle runs. Winter neighborhood levels are typically higher than at the downtown monitor. However, even the sniffer runs do not capture the highly dangerous peak hourly concentrations. Peak PM 2.5 exposures are most strongly associated with adverse health effects including hospitalization and death. Review the medical studies in two articles linked in this previous post: Wood-fired Hydronic Heaters: Hazardous but Unregulated.

On February 15, 2011 at 6 PM, particulate levels measured at the downtown monitor (675 7th Ave in Fairbanks, the lower star) were 76.6 micrograms/cubic meter. At 12 midnight the concentrations climbed to a subdaily peak of 141 micrograms. The 24-hour average for February 15 was 58.8 micrograms, making it UNHEALTHY.

No Air Quality Advisory was in effect on February 15 although DEC declared one the next day. After 26 consecutive hours of PM 2.5 levels over the state and federal limit (including 5 hours above 100 micrograms), DEC declared the Air Quality Advisory on February 16 at 11 AM, stating:

The current Air Quality Index in Fairbanks, North Pole and the immediate surrounding area is UNHEALTHY.

During February 2011, 5 UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS days and 2 UNHEALTHY days were recorded at the downtown monitor.

During the winter of 2010/2011, the peak hourly PM 2.5 concentration recorded downtown was 174.2 micrograms on January 20 at 6 PM. 30 UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS days and 11 UNHEALTHY days were recorded downtown.

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