Six of the seven cruise ships due in Juneau on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, sit in the downtown harbor. The seven ships have the potential of bringing over 22,000 visitors to Juneau for the day. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Six of the seven cruise ships due in Juneau on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, sit in the downtown harbor. The seven ships have the potential of bringing over 22,000 visitors to Juneau for the day. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Smoky skies interrupt downtown air pollutant study

Outdoor burns prohibited until emergency is lifted

The first ambient air study of downtown Juneau in nearly two decades will go on even as smoke and haze from wildfires is picked up by the air quality instruments.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation set up over 20 air quality monitors around town earlier this summer to study air pollutants and determine what effect cruise ships have on air quality. DEC Environmental Program Manager Barbara Trost said on Wednesday she’s aware of the air quality monitors’ heightened levels of airborne particulates.

“Obviously, the instruments are picking up the smoke, which is a good thing,” Trost said. “So we know that they’re working.”

[What the haze? Here’s the deal with all the smoke in Juneau right now]

Trost said her team will have several options when it comes to trying to separate the smoke data from the other air quality data, including taking out the smoke-influenced data entirely.

“There’s a potential of looking what the background level is because if smoke is coming to an area, it’s wildly blanketing it,” Trost said. “We have a monitor out at Floyd Dryden (Middle School) and at the end of the study we’re comparing the equipment back to that sampler. We might be able to qualitatively look at taking out some smoke-impacted background values.”

It was that same DEC monitor at Floyd Dryden that prompted the City and Borough of Juneau to declare an air emergency on Monday. While the air emergency is in effect, all open burn permits are canceled and there is no open burning, according to a CBJ press release.

The sensor records the levels of small airborne dust, or PM2.5, said CBJ Lands and Resources Manager Greg Chaney. On Monday morning, the sensor reached 75 parts per million of PM2.5, over double the limit that constitutes an air quality violation by the DEC.

“This is unprecedented, some of the worst air quality that I’ve ever seen measured in the City and Borough of Juneau,” Chaney said.

The Lands and Resources Department’s air quality monitoring program tracks the levels of particulate matter from wood smoke and other pollutants. The program typically just runs in the wintertime, when high levels of wood smoke can build up during an air inversion event.

“Unlike in the wintertime where we can pretty much control the pollutants that go into the air … now all this soot is being imported in from the Interior and we can’t control what comes in,” Chaney said.

• Contact reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or

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