FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough could be on the edge of violating a new clean air standard announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, a top state air official said on Friday.
The new standards reduce the maximum annual level of small particulate pollution, known as PM 2.5, to 12 micrograms per cubic meter, down from 15. Fairbanks typically has sat a few points above the 12 microgram standard.
The standard measures the annual average of air quality, minus major forest fires and other natural events, in an area and are separate from the EPA’s 24-hour standards, which the borough already violates.
Parts of the Fairbanks North Star Borough are rated as non-attainment of the EPA’s 24-hour averages. Those standards limit pollution to a maximum 35 micrograms per cubic meter for the 98th percentile of three-day air averages. That’s why so much focus has been placed on wintertime air episodes.
Prolonged exposure to small particulate pollution, which comes from wood burning and vehicles among other sources, has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, bronchitis and aggravated asthma.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Air Division Director Alice Edwards said it’s not clear whether Fairbanks will be in attainment of the new standard.
“Fairbanks is right around the threshold right now,” she said.
The EPA lists Fairbanks as one of the areas not likely to attain the federal standard, but Edwards said the state is in the process of revising earlier numbers.
“We’ve submitted that we have some exceptional events,” she said. “We’re much closer to 12, so we’re pretty much right on that threshold.”
The borough still has time before the EPA would make a decision about the Fairbanks area. A designation would be expected some time in 2014, with a similar multi-year process to clean up the air in the following years.
Edwards said that would give time for current work under the 24-hour standard to help the borough reach attainment of the new standard and avoid additional pressure to clean up the air.
“We’re going to be watching that closely,” she said. “All the work that’s being done is going to help us with regards to the annual standard. I can’t say if Fairbanks will be in compliance or out of compliance, though. ... We’ll have to see how the next few years go.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.