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Fairbanks, North Pole need expanded real-time air quality data

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Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2012 10:21 am | Updated: 2:01 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

The air quality forecast for North Pole is "unhealthy" until Friday, while the forecast for Fairbanks is "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

The quality of the air may not be improving, but the quality of the reports provided by the borough is better than it used to be.

This is an important step in helping local residents become more aware of the local pollution situation.

In addition to the regular forecasts of air quality conditions, the borough has four sites providing constant monitoring of the situation that can be checked on the Internet.

The numbers are troubling.

This week, for instance, there have been many hours with elevated levels of particulate pollution close to the ground in low-lying areas, the product of wood smoke, coal smoke, oil furnaces, vehicles, etc.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday in the Hurst Road and Badger Road area, for example, the particulate levels topped out at 228 micrograms per cubic meter. That's thick enough to irritate your eyes and give the air the smell of a campfire. The levels declined in the hours that followed, but the spikes in pollution are creating unhealthy levels of exposure. There were also elevated levels at the two sites in Fairbanks, but not anywhere close to the same degree.

The four sites are a good start in developing better public awareness. Mayor Luke Hopkins and the borough assembly should expand this program and establish additional sites in the Fairbanks and North Pole areas. For instance, we need to have a few additional sites in the North Pole area and several more in Fairbanks.

As it is, the two sites in North Pole and the two sites downtown are not enough to give local residents the information they need about air pollution.

The existing North Pole monitors are the fire station at 3288 Hurst Road and North Pole Elementary School.

The two stations in Fairbanks are at the borough offices along the Chena River and on the state building at 675 Seventh Ave.

There should be a site in South Fairbanks, another one in University West, one in College and one in Shannon Park. The borough, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the University of Alaska should get a more  substantial and informative air quality monitoring system in place as soon as possible.


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