What is fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and where does it come from?
- Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. A single human hair is almost 30 times larger in diameter than the largest fine particle, PM2.5. PM2.5 is a product of combustion, primarily caused by burning fuels. Examples of PM2.5 sources include power plants, vehicles, wood burning stoves, and wildland fires. For more information, click here.
PM2.5 Air Quality Issues
Why is fine particulate matter (PM2.5) such a problem for the Fairbanks North Star Borough?
- The Fairbanks North Star Borough faces a challenging air quality problem due to periodic extreme cold weather and the wood smoke that’s produced when people burn wood to heat their homes.
- The pollutant is known as fine particulate matter (or “PM2.5”). There are federal and state air quality standards for PM2.5. It is important to remember that this standard is meant to protect against short-term health effects from these sorts of air pollution spikes. The area where levels periodically exceed the standard is known as a “nonattainment area.”
- The high levels of air pollution create a public health risk for the residents of Fairbanks North Star Borough, and a strong air quality plan is essential for reducing public exposure to these high levels of air pollution as soon as possible.
Did DEC consider the costs of heating in the development of its State Implementation Plan?
- The state recognizes that residents of Fairbanks North Star Borough face high energy costs and the need to keep homes and businesses warm in extreme cold, so it is critical that the borough and state develop a plan that works for the specific air quality challenges of the area.
- The state has been providing funding for a number of capital energy projects to help address the high costs of energy in the Interior of Alaska and to assist the Fairbanks North Star Borough in changing out wood and coal-fired home heating devices. The state is also aggressively working on projects to expand the availability of natural gas in the nonattainment area, including the Interior Energy Project (LNG trucking) and gas pipeline projects. Other energy projects have the potential to add power to railbelt electrical grid providing additional air quality benefits to the Fairbanks nonattainment area through reduced power costs and reduced need for local generation in the Fairbanks area. These projects include the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, start-up of Healy Power Plant Unit 2, Eva Creek Wind Project, and the development of additional natural gas in Cook Inlet.
Fairbanks North Star Borough PM2.5 SIP Process
Where are the borough and state at in developing and implementing a PM2.5 State Implementation Plan for the Fairbanks North Star Borough nonattainment area?
- The DEC has released its SIP for public review and comment.
- The Alaska DEC, Fairbanks North Star Borough, and EPA have coordinated closely on the development of the PM2.5 plan for the Fairbanks North Star Borough nonattainment area. The final plan dentifies the programs that are needed to bring the community into compliance, provides the required regulatory framework to implement the programs, and provides a timeline for ensuring that the programs are put into place. A strong air quality plan is essential for reducing public exposure to these high levels of air pollution as soon as possible.
- The final State Implementation Plan shows how all the various programs to reduce PM2.5 emissions work together to solve the air quality problem and bring the community into attainment in the future. In developing the SIP, DEC has focused on research, modeling, and initial local program implementation. It is now time to get public input on the SIP and the regulatory framework that the plan will be built on. There are a number of steps involved in developing the final SIP that ensure adequate public involvement. DEC has released the SIP for public review and comment along with a new regulation proposal package. Comments received will be incorporated into the final regulations and the state implementation plan. DEC has already finalized some of the regulations from last year's proposal but is also including some in the new proposal for additional public comment. DEC will submit the final SIP to EPA for approval.
What are the State, DEC, EPA and Borough doing to address the PM2.5 problem?
- The air quality plan for the Fairbanks North Star Borough PM2.5 nonattainment area focuses on programs that will help improve the Borough's air quality while recognizing and balancing the need for local residents to economically heat their homes. A mix of programs are needed to bring the area into compliance with the ambient air quality standard. The list below depicts the range of measures and programs that are already underway or that have been proposed for inclusion in the final plan.
- Solid Fuel (Wood and Coal) Heating Device Change Outs, Removal, Repair Programs
- Expanded Solid Fuel Heating Device Change Out Program for Hot Spot Areas
- Expansion of Natural Gas Availability for Space Heating
- Public Education – Benefits of Using Dry Wood, Best Burning Practices, Efficient Heating Devices
- Adopted State Regulations on Wintertime Open Burning, Wood Heater Emission Standards.
- Proposed State Regulations for Appropriate Solid Fuels and Formal Air Episode Levels Coupled with Flexible Response Program for Wood Heaters
- AHFC Home Energy Rebate and Weatherization Programs
- Expanded Transit and Vanpooling
- Expanded Parking Lot Plug-ins for Motor Vehicles
- Projects to Reduce Diesel Vehicle/Equipment Emissions
- Emission Reductions from Motor Vehicles through the Federal Emission Standards for New Vehicles
- Existing Stationary Source Permit Programs
Other private, local, and state-funded energy projects have the potential to add power to railbelt electrical grid providing additional air quality benefits to the Fairbanks nonattainment area through reduced power costs and reduced need for local generation in the Fairbanks area. These projects include the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, start-up of Healy Power Plant Unit 2, Eva Creek Wind Project, and the development of additional natural gas in Cook Inlet.
Questions on the Regulatory Proposals
Why is DEC proposing to revise the existing statewide requirements related to the use of wood-fired heating devices during air quality episodes?
- With the proposed addition of PM2.5 to the pollutants that can trigger air quality episodes, DEC recognized that the inflexibility of the existing regulation for wood-fired heating devices could ban their use during very cold temperatures when a complete ban may not be necessary or appropriate.
- The current regulation is “black and white” and while it could be appropriate in certain situations, it does not provide the flexibility to tailor the response to an air quality episode and its specific causes. The current regulation does not anticipate the concept of local air quality zones or pollution “hot spots” nor contemplate that wood may be a sole source of heat, which is a significant issue during winter months in Alaska. Further, the current restriction can be triggered by any pollutant in Table 6 of 18 AAC 50.245 whether that pollutant is significantly generated by wood burning or not. For example, the revision would prevent the automatic triggering of restrictions to wood heating in response to events that would not warrant such action, such as ash fallout from a volcanic eruption.
- As a result, DEC is proposing to amend the regulation to provide additional flexibility and discretion. While the department could still restrict the use of wood-fired heating devices during times when air quality exceeds the formal episode levels, the ability would exist to tailor any restrictions to address the specific situation.
Why is DEC proposing regulations for solid fuels for the nonattainment area?
- DEC is proposing to amend 18 AAC 50 to add a new section (18 AAC 50.076) to establish the types of solid fuels that can be burned in heating devices operating within the FNSB PM2.5 nonattainment area. When inappropriate materials are burned in solid-fuel heating devices, they can produce excessive smoke and harmful gases, create nuisance smells, and generate complaints from nearby residents. Providing regulatory guidance on the use of appropriate materials in home heating devices may help to raise awareness and prevent these types of situations and impacts to neighbors.
Why is DEC proposing to establish PM2.5 air episode thresholds?
- Setting air quality episode concentrations is a requirement of the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
- Establishing the thresholds for the PM2.5 concentration levels that can trigger a formal air quality alert, air quality warning, and air quality episode helps to provide a framework for DEC and local air agencies when informing the public of poor air quality conditions and for evaluating response actions.
- The proposal also clarifies that approved local air quality programs can declare air quality alerts, episodes, or warnings. The current regulations require the DEC to declare an air quality alert or episode in order to trigger other provisions within 18 AAC 50. This is resulting in duplicative effort by the state and local agencies in releasing air quality advisories to the public.