Posts Tagged ‘Santa Claus’

Poor Santa. He just can’t find clean air in either his hometown or Fairbanks these days. The Air Quality Index at the downtown monitor reads UNHEALTHY again today, Jan. 21, 2011. Santa’s especially dismayed to see the coal boiler near the corner of the Steese Highway and Farmers Loop on Farmers Loop Extension pouring it out again. He shared his story and his recent photos.

Here’s his note to Clean Air Fairbanks:

“Driving by Farmers Loop and the Steese Highway, the missus and I couldn’t help but notice the smoke coming from this outdoor boiler. It was thick, dark, bluish, stinging to our eyes and throats, and smelled of coal or garbage. I’m keeping a list, and this guy isn’t nice. This time we reported it DEC and the Borough. Perhaps if they don’t care that Santa’s plagued by this smoker, they’ll respond to your complaint. How can nothing be done to protect the Sourdough Farmers Loop Market employees and those who live nearby? All the people going by on the Steese breathe this coal smoke day after day and still nothing is done? If this smoke doesn’t this smoke meet the standards of  “public nuisance” in state regulation 18 AAC 50.110 and borough code 8.21.020 G I’ll eat my red hat. Click on the photos to view a larger version for yourself.”


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Steese Highway Plume, taken 1/9/2011

Coal Smoke Reaches Home Depot from Steese Highway Plume, taken 1/9/2011

For years now local residents have pleaded for relief from harmful levels of air pollution. Now our economy is at risk from EPA sanctions. Still think there’s no problem? Look again.

This coal smoke event occurred on a January weekend. Santa came to Fairbanks to buy CO detectors at Home Depot. He found the detectors, but the coal stench reeked so much that it was all he could do to grab a few paint chips for the sleigh (reds) as Dasher and Blitzen pulled him right out the door and away. No lingering in the smoke loading zone, for goodness sake.

DEC wasn’t able to take Santa’s call with his complaint. How could they? They weren’t there. Even with our riches of oil, the State can’t afford overtime for the scant handful of qualified air quality inspectors or even let them use State vehicles so they can get out there and defend our neighborhoods and children.

Residents can see the smoke, smell the smoke, feel the smoke, even taste the smoke when they cough. Neighborhoods are the front lines of our battle against smoke. Yet, Santa tells us no one in DEC has found an air pollution violation in our borough. Ever. That gets under Santa’s rosy skin because he knows the pollution, year by year, is growing worse.

There is no record that Alaska DEC has ever levied a fine, ordered air pollution to stop, or even found an air quality violation from a woodstove, wood boiler, or coal boiler heating appliance in the borough. Santa is sure DEC sees the smoke too, but their reports all say, “No violation found.”

DEC could do a better job prohibiting smoke if they didn’t prohibit overtime for their inspectors. Operators time the smoke events for when no one will be around to respond to complaints. Two exceedance days a year–that’s one weekend–is all it takes to keep us in nonattainment status; currently, we exceed state and federal standards dozens of days each winter.

Does DEC sound like the state department you want to entrust with air quality control for our community? Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins has just forwarded a voluntary air program to the Assembly which, if approved, will tie the hands of borough government and trigger State control.

We’re not reassured. If the Borough washes its hands of the messy job of enforcement, then it falls to Governor Parnell’s department that disdains smoke regulation even more. DEC thinks smoke isn’t any different from the annoyance of a neighbor’s barking dog, and it’s best left to the locals. Reluctant enforcement is what has given us this smoke pollution free-for-all, worsening each year.

Tell the Borough not to hand over responsibility for protecting our air to DEC. Speak up Thursday, January 13, 2011, 6 pm.

The Agenda for 1/13/2011 meeting has a link to the draft ordinance 2011-03, the voluntary air quality ordinance, but the link doesn’t work. Here’s the current draft: 2011-03, draft version 1/13/2011 [517KB].  Review the current local Air Quality Ordinance 2010-28 (approved 6/10/2010) and Proposition A: the Home Heating Protection Act (approved by voters Oct. 5, 2010 and certified Oct. 12, 2010).

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Santa isn’t laughing about the new hourly smoke reports for North Pole. He knows smoke is serious trouble. He and Missus Claus are getting up in years and want to be make and deliver presents for many more. Plus, he’s all about kids and elves and wants his hometown to be safe. Santa’s “Ho, Ho, Ho” sounded more like “hack, hack, hack” when he sent Clean Air Fairbanks the map of possible North Pole smoke sources you can view at the end of this post.

Real-time, hourly PM 2.5 monitoring reports from the Fairbanks North Star Borough for North Pole are now viewable online at Live Air Quality Data — FNSB AQ Monitoring. The monitoring site is at the North Pole Elementary School.

Here’s how you get the hourly AQ reports for North Pole: when the map of Alaska comes up, click your computer mouse on the blue dot over Fairbanks, then click “ClickStationInfo” to see the monitoring data for 1-hour (PM2.5L 1hr) and 24-hour (PM25L_24). While it says, “Last Received” this mini report may omit some hourly reports you can find in the monthly tables (see below).

[Difficulties? The map of Alaska will not load unless you allow web content that was not delivered securely—click “no” on security warning. Also, if it still isn’t working, try a different web browser as some do not work with this application.]

With a little more elbow grease you can even get month-long tables of hourly data at Live Air Quality Data — FNSB AQ Monitoring. Click on “Data Reports” on the left column, then beneath that click “Matrix.” In the box, select Station “North Pole Elementary” and Monitor “PM2.5L 1hr.” Then set the start date for the first day of the month you want: 12/1/2010 or 1/1/2011 both work. [Set the start date yourself; the calendar seems hinky.] Then push “GenerateReport” at the bottom of the box. These tables report the most current data every hour (without omissions unless the monitor isn’t working), the lowest PM 2.5 concentration recorded that day (Min), the highest concentration (Max), and the 24-hour average concentration (Ave).

You think the monthly tables aren’t user friendly? Be thankful Santa has them at all! Wouldn’t it be great to have more monitoring sites on-line? Limited availability of public information has hindered general understanding of the severity and primary sources of our PM 2.5. Clean Air Fairbanks continues to shine light where we can.

What’s the North Pole AQ monitoring data show? Based on the monthly tables, 7 exceedances over EPA’s 35 micrograms/cubic meter standard were recorded in December 2010 (only half the month reported data) and 2 exceedences have been recorded so far in January 2011 (thru 1/5). The highest hourly PM 2.5 concentrations recorded in Dec. 2010 at the North Pole Elementary monitoring site was 119.3 micrograms at 11 pm. Not a good time to walk Rudolph and the other reindeer. During the winter of 2009-2010, the borough sniffer vehicle recorded an instantaneous reading (not hourly) concentration of over 2,000 micrograms at Lineman Ave and Dawson Road in North Pole. When would you say is a good time for Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves to load up the sleigh and move?

How’s North Pole compare with Fairbanks? The FNSB Air Quality Index reported the 24-hour average at the downtown monitor (675 7th Ave) was 21.1 micrograms as of 4 pm on 1/5/2011. For the preceding 24-hour period (from 5 pm the previous day to 4 pm on 1/5/2011), the average in North Pole was 55.6, significantly higher than in downtown Fairbanks. The maximum hourly concentration recorded at the North Pole site on 1/5/2011 was 94.2.

When is it necessary to take health precautions? View Judging Particulate Levels in Your Area from EPA. According to this table, when hourly concentrations hit 81 micrograms, even healthy children should “limit prolonged exertion.” “Unusually sensitive individuals” including children with lung conditions, such as bronchitis or asthma, or heart problems should be protected at lower PM 2.5 concentrations. Recent studies have found increased mortality with short-term exposure to PM 2.5 concentrations less than 20 μg/m3, considerably below the “health-based” 24-hour standard of 35 μg/m3. [See Dr. Lori Verbrugge, Alaska Division of Public Health, 2009 Symposium Presentation.]

North Pole Elementary School Interim Principal Rosita Bryant-Wilburn and school nurse Diana Drath can now use Live Air Quality Data — FNSB AQ Monitoring to determine for any given hour 1) whether recess should be held outside or inside, 2) whether athletic practice and competitions should be held, 3) whether to take extra precautions to protect health-compromised children such as the 24 students at North Pole Elementary who have notations of “asthma” in school medical files, and 4) when it is time to turn off school air ventilation system to prevent drawing dirty air inside. The public availability of North Pole Elementary’s PM 2.5 air monitoring reports turns up the heat for school indoor air testing as indoor air is not filtered at any school in the borough. Air in classrooms and halls may be as bad as what’s outside. To raise these concerns with North Pole Elementary’s interim principal, contact her directly: Rosita Bryant-Wilburn, phone: (907)488-2286, rosita.wilburn@k12northstar.org. Tell her Santa sent you!

Find North Pole Elementary School, 250 Snowman Lane, on Google maps. Visit the North Pole Elementary School School District website. North Pole Elementary is attended by 483 students, including 24 students with notations of “asthma” in school medical files, and students are supported by 30 teachers and 34 other school district employees. The health of school district employees as well as students is at risk from elevated PM 2.5. Hundreds more students attend North Pole Middle School (585 students, 48 asthma-notations) and North Pole High School (781 students, 41 asthma notations), located within 2,000 feet of North Pole Elementary where the PM 2.5 readings are taken.

Santa knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice so he gave us this map: Map of possible PM 2.5 sources near North Pole Elementary School (from DEC) [124KB]. The North Pole Elementary School is located near “Snowman” in the lower left hand corner of the map. The flags are color coded: Green (23) = indoor woodstove; Red (22) = Outdoor Wood Boiler; Blue (4) = Outdoor Coal Boiler. Some of the wood boilers burn coal also. The flags are not comprehensive; many areas have not been researched. Other sources of PM 2.5 such as diesel vehicles, such as idling near the school, are not shown. Contrast the number of flagged potential sources (49) with the thousands of people living nearby.

Santa promises not to give out any more lumps of coal in North Pole. Be on the lookout instead for stockings loaded with dry firewood. Santa will be in touch to let you know what you can do to get him out of smoke trouble.

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Update: Hourly PM 2.5 monitoring reports from the Fairbanks North Star Borough for North Pole are now viewable online. Read the post: “New Hourly AQ Reports Show Santa in Smoke Trouble.”

Newly revised School District regulation 960.1 allows healthy children to play outside at recess until particulate levels reach 176 micrograms per cubic meter. This “guideline” appears to be based on one-hour particulate levels. However, one-hour levels are not currently available to parents, nurses, principals, or even the Superintendent.

The revised regulation lowers the guideline from 200 micrograms per cubic meter to 176. For the previous version and chart of the regulations, view Clean Air Fairbanks’ earlier post on School District Regs on Unhealthy Particulate Levels. Progress, true, but not nearly enough for our children.

The only PM 2.5 numbers available for principals and school nurses are 24-hour averages. They are the same numbers available to you: FNSB’s Air Quality Index. During episodes of air quality concern, this site is updated by the Borough once a day on weekdays only.

If principals wait to see 176 micrograms before cancelling outdoor recess or athletic activities based on the only numbers available, these 24-hour levels, children may be exercising vigorously until AQI concentrations reach VERY UNHEALTHY. This is especially dangerous if no special regard is taken to protect children with health conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, or heart problems.

View Judging Particulate Levels in Your Area to better understand the levels, categories, and cautionary statements.

Contact the School Board to request regulation 960.1 be revised again to:

  1. Use the 24-hour column, not the 1-hr column, as it is the only number available,
  2. Initiate action to protect healthy children at UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS levels (35.5-55.4 µg) not waiting until UNHEALTHY (55.5-150.4 µg) or VERY UNHEALTHY (150.5-250.4 µg), and
  3. To protect health-compromised children, consider extra precautions at MODERATE levels (15.5-35.4 µg).

Contact your School District members & the Superintendent:

If you prefer, ask Sharon Tuttle, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent, to forward your message to the School Board sharon.tuttle@k12northstar.org 452-2000 x 401


School District regulations cannot advise waiting to cancel recess, athletic practice, or athletic competitions until levels are VERY UNHEALTHY. Healthy children are considered members of the “sensitive groups” category. To provide adequate protection for healthy children, precautions need to be taken at UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS particulate levels, or lower. Children with health conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, or heart problems are considered “unusually sensitive” to PM 2.5 pollution and may need extra precautions even at MODERATE particulate levels.

Listen to KUAC’s radio news story 12/14/2010 on the School District’s decision to revise the guidelines from 200 to 176 micrograms/cubic meter and the district’s challenge to ensure indoor air is clean.

The FDNM covered the same decision, overlooking that 1-hour PM 2.5 levels are unavailable, “Fairbanks school district tightens air quality restrictions for recess, practices” 12/15/2010.

Many, many people do not understand the need to protect themselves from high particulate levels. Clean Air Fairbanks observed a team of young runners from UAF, wearing reflective vests for safety, yet exercising in unhealthy, smoke-choked air. Principals, school nurses, and coaches aren’t trained or prepared in any way to make informed decisions on how to best protect individuals under their responsibility from elevated PM 2.5. These are the individuals we’re counting on to protect our children.

When PM 2.5 levels are high, children are often kept in from recess because of the cold so indoor air may be the greater concern. During inside recess children typically run around inside the school building. Yet, we’ve seen no data to show indoor air is any cleaner than outside air on days with high PM 2.5. Typical ventilation systems exchange inside “dirty” air for “cleaner” outside air. During PM 2.5 pollution events, those ventilation systems draw particulates into the school bldg and spread it throughout halls, classrooms, and gyms, just as has happened in smoke-impacted homes across the borough.

Recess and outside athletic activities promote physical and social development and are linked to academic success. Clearly, air quality data relevant to each school would empower principals to make informed decisions for our children.

Yet, cost estimates have not been made available for 1) installing monitors near schools to collect 1-hour particulate levels, 2) updating reporting of Borough data so real-time reports are available to principals and the public, 3) conducting an indoor air sampling study at district schools during UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS particulate levels, or 4) if justified by the indoor air quality study or other data, installing indoor air filtration at about 30 district schools.

Controlling PM 2.5 pollution at its source is necessary for the future of our community and cost-effective. A handful of smoky OWBs and coal burners in one neighborhood may result in millions of dollars in additional health care expenses, absentee days from work or school, lower property values, indoor air filtration, etc. And that is for just one school. Our School District has 7,000 students under its care. Controlling PM 2.5 pollution is every resident and taxpayer’s concern and needs to be addressed at every level, from the individual on up.

When our children are in danger, the future of our community is at risk.

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