FAIRBANKS — Local and state agencies trying to convince Fairbanks residents of the harmful effects of air pollution are launching public outreach initiatives in an effort to combat factual inaccuracies that emerged in a heated debate over proposed air quality restrictions.
North Star Borough spokeswoman Sallie Stuvek says the fight over Proposition 2, which would have created air quality regulations and banned certain devices in the Fairbanks and North Pole areas, led to misinformation in the debate, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.
The measure was defeated 60 percent to 40 percent in October.
Temperature inversions that will push smoke closer to the ground and dropping temperatures will soon create more small-particulate matter pollution, called PM 2.5.
Small-particulate matter pollution has been linked to asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart and lung problems, and premature death.
A highlight of the outreach efforts will be a study released by the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services that showed that for each increase of 10 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter, there was an 7 percent increase for stroke-related hospital visits for people under 65, as well as similar increases for older people and for other respiratory-related visits.
“It’s a significant increase, it’s measurable and it’s a big enough difference,” said Nim Ha, acting program manager for the environmental public health program at the state Division of Public Health. “On an individual-level basis it may not sound like a lot, but in public health those can translate into hundreds of additional visits. It’s a significant health issue.”
Smoke from inefficient wood stoves is believed to be the No. 1 contributor to the problem that has put Fairbanks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of communities violating fine particle pollution standards.
As home heating oil prices have skyrocketed, more residents are using wood. Emissions from increasing wood burning include tiny but toxic particulates.
“We’re going to be getting into the temperature inversions and there is just a lot of information out there that’s potentially not accurate,” Stuvek said.