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Attainment & Nonattainment - FAQs

The purpose of this webpage is to explain what attainment and nonattainment means, how we know if an area is in attainment or nonattainment, and what the implications of each designation are to the citizens and industry in Alaska.

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What is ambient air?
Ambient air is the atmosphere, external to buildings, to which the general public has access. Areas within the fenced or restricted access boundaries of industrial facilities are generally not considered ambient air for the purposes of the air quality program. Workplace (indoor) air pollution exposure is regulated by the Federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
What are the ambient air quality standards?
Air quality regulations in the United States are based on a set of air quality standards known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS. The primary NAAQS are set at the levels to protect the public health with “an adequate margin of safety.” Additionally, secondary NAAQS were created to protect the environment and public welfare. These standards are based on scientific studies conducted over many years. The standards are expressed as either micrograms per cubic meter or parts per million, over a specified period of time. There are standards for six categories of pollutants, known as “criteria pollutants”: particulate matter less than ten and two and a half microns in diameter (PM10 and PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and lead. These pollutants can harm your health and the environment, and cause property damage. Of the six pollutants, particulate matter and ground-level ozone are the most widespread health threats.
What do the terms 'attainment' and 'nonattainment' mean?
If the concentration of one or more criteria pollutants in a geographic area is found to exceed the regulated or ‘threshold’ level for one or more of the NAAQS, the area may be classified as a nonattainment area. Areas with concentrations of criteria pollutants that are below the levels established by the NAAQS are considered either attainment or unclassifiable areas.
How do we know if an area is in attainment or not?
ADEC has several ambient air monitors located throughout the state to measure the concentrations of pollutants in the ambient air. The monitors, their locations, and their measurements may be found at: DEC Air Online Services
Has Alaska ever had a nonattainment area designation?
Yes, the most recent nonattainment area in Alaska, was one for the pollutant particulate matter PM.25. That nonattainment area is located in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Areas or communities that are currently in nonattainment or previous nonattainment areas that have maintenance plans may be found at: Affected Communities
What will be required if an area is designated nonattainment?
A state implementation plan (SIP) must be submitted to EPA for the nonattainment area. Through this plan, a state will design its approach to reducing the pollutant levels in the air and, if appropriate, any emissions of precursor pollutants. Precursors are those pollutants which can form another pollutant in the atmosphere. For example, NOx and SO2 are precursor pollutants for PM2.5. The comprehensive approach to reducing criteria air pollutants taken by the Clean Air Act covers many different sources and a variety of clean-up methods. These air pollution control programs could include the nonattainment New Source Review permit program and Federal General Conformity and Transportation Conformity programs. State plans will make sure power plants, factories and other pollution sources meet clean-up goals by working through the air pollution permitting process that applies to industrial facilities. Working with the EPA, a state or local authority will also implement programs to further reduce emissions of pollutant precursors from sources such as cars, fuels, home heating and consumer/commercial products and activities. After the area is designated as nonattainment, the area must meet the federally mandated deadlines established by the 1990 Amendment to the Clean Air Act for compliance with the national ambient air quality standards. In the interim, it must be demonstrated to the EPA that reasonable further progress toward improving the air quality is being made in the nonattainment area.
Is economic development impacted in a nonattainment area?
Economic development should not be impacted directly by a nonattainment designation, but there could be indirect, costly consequences due to the designation. Industrial facilities could be required to install pollution control equipment, take limits on their production, or otherwise find reductions in emissions by “offsetting” in order to expand. New facilities wanting to locate in a nonattainment area will most likely be required to install pollution controls or take stringent operational limits. Other measures to reduce emissions may also be implemented in the nonattainment area. Requirements for home heating such as using dry wood, opacity, curtailments, and mandatory change-outs could be possible. Mobile vehicle emissions contribute to the formation of carbon monoxide and PM2.5. A nonattainment area strategy may include improvement to its mass transit systems and provide incentives or encouragement to reduce emissions from motor vehicles such as introducing carpool lanes and a centralized carpool list; providing incentives to utilize mass transit; encouraging refueling at different times of the day; encouraging biking and walking; reducing idling emissions especially from diesel buses and trucks; providing incentives to utilize renewable fuels; and many other measures to encourage behaviors from the general public that may impact the local air quality.
Are surrounding communities impacted from a nonattainment area?
Air pollution knows no boundaries. Many factors contribute to the fate and transport of pollutants including local or regional topography, wind direction and speed, weather patterns, type of pollutant, and sources of the pollutant. Due to these factors, it is possible for communities surrounding a nonattainment area to be impacted by pollution in the nonattainment area. The state or local permitting authority or EPA may conduct a computer modeling analysis to help determine how the pollution in the region is being transported and what areas or sources are contributing to the regional pollution. Based on this analysis, the state or local air quality authority may need to work with the surrounding communities that potentially impact the nonattainment area to reduce their emissions. The degree to which surrounding communities or businesses must reduce their emissions will depend on their level of contribution, the type of pollutant, sources of the pollutant, and other factors specific to that region.