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Woodsmoke is the greatest contributor to PM 2.5, borough regulations will help reduce health risks

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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial:

When I was asked to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Northwest and Alaska Region, I was excited to bring an Alaskan perspective to the agency and help focus our work with communities and local agencies to protect people’s health and the environment in this great state.

I’ve watched the Fairbanks North Star Borough struggle to meet the particle pollution health standards for more than a decade. The health risks are real. The standards are supported by years of scientific studies that are available on EPA’s website. Particle pollution comes from a variety of sources. However, analysis of air samples collected in the borough show that wood smoke contributes as much as 60-80 percent of the particle pollution, depending on location. Wood smoke is the primary source of particle pollution in the borough.

Although the wood smoke problem is more severe in the borough, we see the same problem in other areas of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. That is, wintertime temperature inversions, and stagnant air, trapping wood smoke and making the air unhealthy to breathe. 

Because you can’t change the weather, you need to change your wood burning habits. Implementing the borough’s wood smoke curtailment program is critical to achieving the particle standards in the borough. This means there will be days when cleaner, less polluting, heating options must be used. This is not an easy choice, but when borough residents understand how their choices affect the air they and their neighbors breathe, it’s the right choice.

We are confident the Borough Air Quality Division is the best agency to implement a local curtailment program. They are your neighbors and are working to manage the program to provide flexibility to those who need it most. Communities in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington also have had success finding local solutions to improve their air quality.

The borough and your local leaders are making progress, and air quality looks to be improving. However, there’s a long way to go to get to clean air, and we all need to work together to get there.

Chris Hladick is regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Northwest and Alaska Region. Before his appointment to EPA, Chris served as commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Commerce and as city manager in Unalaska and Dillingham.

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