Fairbanks borough air pollution levels worst in US

FARIBANKS — Data show air pollution in the Fairbanks North Star Borough remains at the highest levels in the nation and has failed to show significant air quality improvement.

The borough’s North Pole is recording the nation’s highest counts of episodic particulate pollution. The data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show the counts are nearly twice as much as the next highest community in the nation, California’s San Joaquin Valley, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

“This level of pollution is rarely experienced in the United States,” said Claudia Vaupel, EPA air planning team leader.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough’s design value for short-term particulate pollution, a tool used by the EPA to measure progress, was much lower in previous years when the monitor of record was based in the city of Fairbanks. A monitor was added in North Pole a few years ago and it became the official monitoring site last year, as required under federal guidelines.

Krystal Francesco lived about two miles from the North Pole monitor for three years and left in 2013 partly due to the smoke pollution, she said.

“We could smell chemicals outside the house and also coming into the room where me and my infant daughter at the time slept,” Francesco said.

The borough’s nonattainment area has the highest design value for short-term particulate pollution in the U.S. of 124 micrograms per cubic meter, an improvement from the 139 micrograms recorded last year, but still far from the goal of below 35.5 micrograms.

“We are still extremely high,” said Ron Lovell, borough air quality manager.

The San Joaquin Valley, which is showing the second-highest particulate pollution spikes, had a design value of 71 micrograms per cubic meter last year, while Los Angeles’s design value was 38 and Salt Lake City’s was 43.

Alaska officials are working to outline new regulations for controlling pollution in the borough, as federal regulators plan to upgrade both Fairbanks and North Pole from moderate to serious air quality non-attainment areas this summer.

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