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Borough reports appear to downplay pollution levels, compared to rest of country

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Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2012 2:17 pm | Updated: 1:59 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

While the particulate pollution levels in North Pole and Fairbanks remain higher than any reported in the rest of the country, it appears that a pollution level described as "unhealthy for sensitive groups" in Fairbanks and North Pole would be termed "very unhealthy" in the Lower 48.

For instance, as I write this, at 2 p.m., the North Pole level is reported as 170 micrograms per cubic meter. The borough says that is "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

A national reporting program through which pollution levels of more than 500 cities are tabulated treats the exact same reading as "very unhealthy," if it continues at that level for 24 hours.

The borough reporting system does not follow the national pattern. But it should.

The borough includes this disclaimer, "When calculating Air Quality Index Level on Near-Real-Time Data, the average PM2.5 for a one hour time frame is used. Since the EPA doesn't have index levels for the average one hour time frame, the levels indicated on this web page are calculated as if the one hour average PM2.5 were the peak value in an average 24 hour period with normally distributed emissions."

The problem is that the hourly reports are not necessarily the daily peak levels.

While it is true that EPA does not have a one-hour standard, it is also true that cities across the country are reporting the one-hour figures and making a statement about air quality and health based on 24-hour exposure at that level.

I have asked borough officials and state officials to address this problem and adopt the reporting system that is in use in the rest of the nation.

With the stagnant and cold air conditions this week, the current system is downplaying just how unhealthy the air is.



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