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Open dialogue on burn bans could help with compliance

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial:

Fairbanks’ and North Pole’s decadelong struggle to improve air quality hit a crescendo Tuesday night, when some 130 people attended a town hall meeting designed to address concerns regarding burn bans. For about 21/2 hours, Borough Mayor Karl Kassel addressed the public’s questions.

In October, the borough implemented tougher rules on wood-burning to curb the miniscule bits of pollution, known as PM 2.5, in the atmosphere. The amount of PM 2.5 in the air somtimes rises to dangerous levels during thermal inversions. Wood smoke, particularly from wood that has not been sufficiently dried, is the leading producer of PM 2.5. Scientific studies have linked PM 2.5 to respiratory and heart health problems. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to its adverse affects. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has noted a slight uptick in hospital visits when the air quality sours.

Eighteen burn bans have occurred this winter. Most of the bans have been issued to the North Pole area, which has some of the highest levels of PM 2.5 in the nation. Yet scofflaws continue to ignore the burn bans. At least one ticket has been issued for such a violation.

The belated dialogue during the town hall between borough officials and owners of wood-burning stoves could be an important step toward improving air quality. On the borough’s part, understanding the concerns of area residents could improve the implementation of burn bans, encourage compliance and improve enforcement. Residents who use wood-burning stoves may be encouraged to comply with the regulations if they have a better understanding of why the rules are in place and how to comply.

Air quality in Fairbanks and North Pole is among the worst in the nation, episodically, and remains a serious public health problem. The regulations were designed to improve air quality, but if these regulations are not followed the air quality will not improve. Let’s hope this dialogue remains open and improvements to our air quality follow.

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The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

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