Air health advisory extended as smoky skies linger

Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2004

State regulators are extending an air health advisory in the Juneau area through Friday due to smoky conditions caused by fires in Alaska and western Canada.

Air monitoring by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation shows that fine particle pollution in Juneau remains below the federal health standard, but elevated enough to warrant caution, said Gerry Guay, program manager for DEC's air monitoring program.

The advisory will run through Friday. It advises those suffering from respiratory illness or heart disease, as well as the elderly and children, to limit their exposure to the smoke and outside exertion. All others are cautioned to limit prolonged outdoor exercise.

Also remaining in effect is an open burning ban announced last week by Capital City Fire and Rescue.

Juneau's haze appears to be the result of wildfires hundreds of miles away, with little contribution of fine particle pollution from locally docked cruise ships, Guay said. He based his conclusion on a previous study that showed minimal air quality impact from the ships, and the fact that the air monitor for the Juneau area is in the Mendenhall Valley, where it is probably not affected by ship emissions.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Maier said the haze will likely persist through Thursday, when a front is expected to bring rain and wind. Weekend showers should also keep the haze out, Juneau-based Maier said.

The haze has been appearing off and on for several weeks, during periods of sunny weather. By now it has turned into a subject of local conversation, catching the attention of residents, tourists and business people alike.

"Gosh, it's hazy!" exclaimed Sarah Dunlap, co-owner of Alaska Fly-n-Fish Charters in Juneau, on Monday. "We aren't (seeing) those long vistas."

Though the haze hasn't stopped any Fly-n-Fish tours yet, Dunlap said that her husband, Butch Laughlin, could hardly make out the island's prominent Eagle Peak when he flew close by the scenic spot on Monday.

Apparently, news of the major wildfires and Juneau's haze has traveled as far south as Texas. "This morning I took a booking for two people in Texas who had obviously heard about it," said Barbara Kelly, sales manager for Alaska Discovery Wilderness Tours.

One of the Texans asked if there was going to be a problem with smoke. "I told them we are getting smoke but I didn't expect it in August when they are arriving,'' Kelly said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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