North Pole Air Quality

North Pole recorded its worst air quality ever on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, as cars drive through the pollution inversion along Badger Road at the Hurst Road intersection Monday afternoon, Jan. 5, 2015.

A request to postpone the deadline for achieving clean air in the Fairbanks North Star Borough to 2024 has been rejected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, triggering a requirement for yet another plan for reducing smoke pollution.

State officials say the decision announced by the EPA this week was expected.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is working on updates to its most recent “serious” pollution-control plan, known as the State Implementation Plan, which was completed in December. The agency intends to continue on the path of attaining 5% a year air quality improvement over the next 10 years, according to a Tuesday statement provided by DEC spokeswoman Laura Achee.

“DEC was aware more than a year ago that the area would not be able to meet the ambient air quality standard in 2019 as required by the EPA, even with the significant improvements in air quality from local efforts,” according to the statement provided by Achee.

“We anticipate having the (new) SIP available for public review this summer and look forward to engaging with you and your constituents to hear your feedback,” the statement reads.

Particulate pollution monitors show that areas of Fairbanks and North Pole have almost twice the particulate pollution levels allowed under the federal Clean Air Act caused by chimney stack and tailpipe emissions on cold winter days when the air is stagnant.

Households and businesses in the federally recognized nonattainment area are subject to state rules and regulations, including restrictions on wood burning, aimed at reducing the pollution.

Achee said it was too soon to discuss details of new pollution control measures but that the plan updates would include a new contingency measure “that could be triggered in the future if we fail to meet targets or milestones.”

The EPA’s deadline for the new plan is Dec. 31 of this year. The new plan must “further reduce particulate emissions and better protect the health of the people in the borough,” according to a statement from the EPA Region 10 office in Seattle.

In a separate matter, the EPA is reviewing whether to treat last year’s wildfires as exceptional thereby reducing the 2019 particulate pollution calculations in Fairbanks and North Pole. What the EPA decides will determine whether the data shows that PM2.5 in the most polluted area of the borough improved or worsened in 2019 compared with 2018.

The three-year average in 2018 was 65 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5. For 2019, the EPA set the three-year average at 69 micrograms per cubic meter — the first increase in pollution since 2014.

The DEC is asking for the final number to be 64 micrograms per cubic meter. To comply with the Clean Air Act, the number must be reduced to 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

PM2.5 is a nearly invisible particulate that lodges deep inside the lungs, and studies show that long-term exposure is linked with a host of illnesses of the heart and lungs.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.