Fairbanks, Alaska’s North Star Borough is being reclassified as a “serious” nonattainment area for fine particulate air pollution, and faces an especially difficult challenge of meeting existing pollution standards for a number of reasons.
These reason include a high reliance on woodstoves and wood heaters to stay warm. In a statement, Tim Hamlin, director of EPA’s Region 10 Office of Air and Waste, said: “We recognize their challenges and will work closely with the state of Alaska and the Borough to find solutions that will achieve both clean, healthy air and warm homes.”
The community faces an especially difficult challenge when its fine particulate levels spike during the many cold air inversions that occur each winter. One of the biggest contributors of fine particulates are the woodstoves and wood heaters many Borough residents use to heat their homes. The big challenge is that the need for heat is greatest when burning wood is most likely to be harmful to public health during severe cold air inversions that trap the fine particulates from wood smoke closer to where people are breathing the polluted air.
While we understand the logistical limitations of the Fairbanks community, switching sources of home heating, especially during cold air inversions, can greatly reduce harmful particulate emissions. Using dry wood in professionally installed certified woodstoves and using techniques to burn it hotter reduces fine particle pollution and the amount of wood burned.