Winter in Fairbanks is deceptively pristine in its winter white blanket of snow. With the hard winter comes increased fuel consumption and occasional inversions that prevent pollution from dispersing into the atmosphere. The combination often leads to poor air quality and poses a risk to the public’s health.
On Tuesday, the Fairbanks North Star Borough issued burn bans under new tougher rules in North Pole and Fairbanks highlighting the prevalence of PM 2.5, or fine particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller, in the atmosphere.
Now it’s time for borough residents to prove they really want the clean air they’ve been talking about for so long.
The borough has been designated a “serious” nonattainment area by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. PM 2.5 can accumulate in the lungs or enter the bloodstream. In the short term, exposure to PM 2.5 can decrease lung function, irritate the airways, and cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and an irregular heartbeat. Long-term affects of PM 2.5 exposure can lead to chronic diseases like pneumonia or emphysema, infant mortality, developmental disabilities, and lung cancer deaths. Children and seniors are particularly susceptible to the effects of PM 2.5.
For many residents, burning wood in a woodstove is the cheapest way to warm their homes. Unfortunately, woodsmoke contributes up to 75 percent of the PM 2.5 in the borough, according to a borough study completed in 2013. Wet wood with a moisture content above 20 percent exacerbates the problem.
For more than a decade the borough has worked with state and EPA officials to meet standards for clean air. And earlier this year the Borough Assembly adopted more robust regulations in an effort to reduce PM 2.5. Last winter, wood burners could ignore a Stage 1 alert if they chose. But now during a Stage 1 alert, only people with a No Other Adequate Heat Source (NOASH) waiver or approved Stage 1 waiver can burn wood or coal. During a Stage 2 alert, only residents with a NOASH can use their woodstoves. Scofflaws will be subject to a notice and subsequent fines. There are more requirements to obtain a NOASH permit as well.
Of course, the easiest way to prevent burn bans is to burn dry wood, which can be accomplished by doing the following:
— Splitting wood in half at least once
— Stacking wood in piles to allow airflow
— Storing wood for six months to two years in an area exposed to the sun
It’s been easy to ignore burn bans in the past, but now it’s time to see if the borough’s new regulations will change behavior and curtail air pollution in the Interior. Residents should follow these new regulations and give air quality a chance to improve. After all, compliance could be less expensive than paying fines.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Nov. 29