FAIRBANKS — Air pollution in the North Pole area could reach hazardous levels tonight.

That’s according to an updated air quality alert issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on Saturday afternoon. The alert maintained the ongoing “unhealthy for all groups” advisory for the North Pole area and “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in the Fairbanks area.

It warned that “on Saturday and Sunday nights North Pole hourly concentrations may occasionally reach into the hazardous category.”

The “hazardous” category is the most severe air quality rating on the DEC’s air quality scale. It warns that during that time “everyone should avoid any outdoor exertion; people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should remain indoors.”

The air pollution in the Fairbanks North Star Borough has been worsening during the past week despite temperatures that have been above zero. 

Borough Air Quality Division manager Ron Lovell in an interview Friday said it’s largely because of a strong inversion and almost no winds in the affected areas.

He said he expects the inversion to begin to break up Monday, but it could begin to dissipate as early as this afternoon.

The borough’s air pollution has been an ongoing issue and has attracted the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has put pressure on the state to reduce the air pollution. The state is expected to unveil those plans in the coming weeks.

The main source of air pollution in the Fairbanks North Star Borough comes from wood burning and is called fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5. PM 2.5 has been linked to a number of heart and lung diseases, including stroke and heart attacks. A 2010 state study showed increased hospital visits for those conditions on days when air pollution is at its worst.

For regular updates on the state of the air quality, you can sign up for text alerts at www.aqfairbanks.com/aqadvisory

signup or can check the status at co.fairbanks.ak.us/airquality or by calling an air quality forecast recording at 459-1234.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.