Except for wildfires, Alaska cities meet federal air standards

Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2004

FAIRBANKS - No monitored cities in Alaska have air pollution regularly exceeding federal standards for fine particles, though Fairbanks met the standards this year largely because smoke from summer wildfires wasn't included in ratings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA conducted a national county-by-county summary of air quality. Juneau and Ketchikan represent Southeast Alaska among five areas monitored statewide.

The EPA study found problems in 224 counties in 20 states. The counties were clustered mostly around Los Angeles, the California central valley, the Ohio River valley and major metropolitan areas such as Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta and the mid-Atlantic region from New York to Washington, D.C.

If wildfire smoke were counted, Fairbanks air would likely violate the annual average standard.

Filter tests show the fine particles found in a cubic meter of air during a Fairbanks winter weigh about 20 micrograms, according to Gerry Guay, program manager for the state's air monitoring group in the Department of Environmental Conservation. The federal government's standard is 15 micrograms as an annual average.

Summer air in Fairbanks measures cleaner. So, when the whole year is counted, the town slips under the federal standard, usually registering between 12 and 14 micrograms, Guay said.

Smoke from wildfires id considered a natural background contributor and doesn't factor into the final equation. Last summer, in which a record number of acres burned, fine particles in that smoke sometimes weighed 700 to 800 micrograms, Guay said.

Denali has the fewest particles, with an average of about 1 or 2 micrograms at the headquarters, Guay said.

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