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Local pollution levels top national list, but Chinese metropolis is worse

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Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012 2:33 pm | Updated: 2:47 pm, Thu Feb 21, 2013.

Fairbanks and North Pole continue to have higher pollution levels for fine particulate matter than any of the 500 or so cities monitored on a national website.

But I have found a place that is reporting higher levels of particulate pollution—Guangzhou, a city of 8.5 million in southern China.

The air in that metropolis is  "hazardous" today because of particulate levels ranging from 300 to 400  micrograms per cubic meter, according to the U.S. consulate, which has a Twitter feed reporting the air quality on the hour.

The concentration of fine particulate matter in Guangzhou has ranged from 300 micrograms to 400 micrograms in recent hours. 

In Shanghai, a reading of 24 micrograms leads to a "moderate" air quality rating, while in Beijing, there is a reading of 77 micrograms, which is classed as "unhealthy" air.

In Fairbanks at the last hour, the fine particulates were measured at 91 micrograms. The North Pole fire station at Hurst Road showed a reading of 182 micrograms, more than 100 micrograms higher than Beijing, and the North Pole Elementary School had a reading of 113 micrograms.

To those who claim that I am making too much of the comparisons between our community and the rest of the country and other places around the world, I would respond that we haven't paid enough attention to this. This issue deserves more attention from the news media and from our local and state leaders.

The current air conditions, created by the release of pollutants from burning wood, coal and oil while a stagnant air mass covers the valley, are not present all the time during the winter.

But strong  inversions that trap pollutants are common in Fairbanks.

We haven't had the community focus we need on the health impacts of the elevated pollution levels and what they mean to our future, not only in terms of meeting EPA standards, but also in terms of attracting businesses and promoting the development of a healthy society. It is not good public relations for Fairbanks, or for Alaska for that matter, to be at the top of particulate pollution lists.

Nearly 500 cities and counties are included in the daily U.S. Air Quality Summary published by AIRNow, a cooperative effort of the EPA, most states and hundreds of cities. None of the places on that list are reporting "unhealthy" or "very unhealthy" air conditions today.

Fairbanks does not participate in the national compilation and neither does the State of Alaska. I have asked both Mayor Luke Hopkins and Alice Edwards, the head of the state air program for the Department of Environmental Conservation, to begin taking part in the national data collection effort.

Ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn't exist is not a sensible approach.

While this will undoubtedly lead to some bad publicity at times during periods when the air is stagnant and cold, it would also might help mobilize the community to do something about it. 

We can reduce pollution with houses that are better insulated, cleaner wood stoves, cleaner oil furnaces and an increased use of natural gas.

If you think the problem is confined to the neighborhoods where the monitors are located, then I suggest you support an expansion of the monitoring system, an investment that would show whether certain neighborhoods are better than others. While the problem is not confined to those areas, the regular runs past local schools show that the pollution levels vary greatly, which is another reason for better monitoring and communication.

I think that people living here, as well as those interested in moving to Fairbanks,, need to know something about the quality of the air, just as they need to know about the quality of the water, the schools, the roads, etc.



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