Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Air Quality Information

Butte AQ

 
Curious about the current Air Quality conditions? See the latest on the DEC Airquality Tools Page.

Fairbanks: A Cautionary Tale

The EPA Clean Air Act requirements have cost the North Star Borough millions of dollars.  Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel shared with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly and Planning Commission how to prevent falling into a costly federal category called non-attainment and to how prevent bad air days.

After the meeting, Kassel spoke with Assembly Member Jim Sykes, who represents Butte, and Whistle Stop Host Patty Sullivan, about how the Fairbanks North Star Borough has been grappling with air quality issues for 30 years. 

Particle Pollution

The Borough experiences particle pollution or particulate matter (PM), which is a complex mixture of extremely small solid or liquid particles in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large enough or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye and others are so small they can only be detected with a microscope. The size of the particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems.

Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose a risk to health because they can affect both the lungs and heart. Because of the risk to public health, the EPA is required to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM pollution that specifies a maximum amount of PM to be present in outdoor air10, and this is measured as either coarse PM (PM10) or fine PM (PM2.5). There are different standards for PM10 and PM2.5.

PollutantAveraging TimeLevelForm
PM2.5 Annual Mean 12 µg/m3 Annual mean, averaged over 3 years
24-hour 35 µg/m3 98th percentile, averaged over 3 years
PM10 24-hour 150 µg/m3 Not to be exceeded more than once per year on average over 3 years

PM10 includes particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or less and it primarily comes from road dust, agricultural dust, river beds, construction sites, mining operations and similar activities. The Borough primarily experiences PM10 as blowing dust. When the Borough experiences high wind events, conditions are dry and low river levels expose large gravel bars and tidal flats (typical in fall and spring), large amounts of glacial silt can be stirred up and carried down the valleys.

The Borough issues several air quality alerts per year because of these wind-blown dust events. Because these elevated PM10 levels are from a natural source and often not reasonably controllable, rather than being required to control the sources of dust pollution, we are required to mitigate the impacts through air quality advisories and public education.

particulate matter

PM2.5 is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and is a product of combustion, primarily caused by burning fuels. Typical sources found in the Borough include outdoor burning of construction debris or trash (burn barrels), land clearing, and wood-fired heating devices. In the winter months, the Butte area can experience extended periods of inversions, where cold, dense air traps smoke close to the ground. This can cause elevated levels of PM2.5.

Burn Wisely

mat su clean air

Research confirms that dry wood is cleaner and safer to burn than wet wood. Burning wet wood is less efficient and produces excessive smoke. This leads to many kinds of health problems, including asthma and heart conditions. It also leads to buildup of creosote in the chimney, which can result in a chimney fire.

To prepare wood to use in your wood burning device:

SPLIT
the wood in half at least once. Your wood should be less than two feet in length.
STACK
in a pile to allow for adequate air flow.
STORE
properly by covering the top of the wood pile to protect from rain and snow, leaving sides of the stack open to breathe. Store for six months to two years depending on your location n, the weather and type or species of wood. Store in an area with good exposure to the sun. If wood is prepared after August 1st, store until the following burn season.
SAVE
money and our air. Burning dry wood means your fire burns hotter so you burn less wood.

Air Quality Facts

Particle Pollution

Particle pollution contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. A number of scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems.

Health Consequences of Exposure

Exposure to fine particles is linked to:

  • Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing
  • Aggravated asthma
  • Development of chronic bronchitis
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Non-fatal heart attacks
  • Aggravation of heart and lung diseases
  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • Possibly linked to lung cancer deaths, infant mortality and development al problems such as low birth weight in children.
How Do Fine Particles Interact with the Body?
  • Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems because the nose and throat filter larger particles penetrating deep into lungs.
  • Particles can accumulate, react, absorb, or be cleared by the lungs
  • Particles can enter the bloodstream

Health Risks

Who is Most at Risk?

People with heart or lung disease:
  • Conditions make them vulnerable
Older Adults:
  • Greater prevalence of heart and lung disease
Children:
  • More likely to be active
  • Breathe more air per pound
  • Bodies still developing

Particulates are known to have health impacts on humans. Human bodies have natural defenses to help cough or sneeze larger particles out of bodies, but those defenses don’t keep out smaller particles.

PM2.5 is associated with more severe health consequences: the smaller the particle, the greater the potential to impact health because they are small enough to slip through our natural defenses in the oral and nasal passages and penetrate farther into the respiratory tract and even enter the bloodstream. PM2.5 particles can lodge in the very small air sacs of the lungs which can slow the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide and cause the heart to work harder to achieve the same rate of transfer. These are similar to the health effects caused by the particles in cigarette smoke. This effect is most noticeable in children and the elderly as well as people with respiratory diseases like bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, or heart problems. However, particulate inhalation can affect all people and adverse effects may only appear after repeated low concentration exposures or exposure to extremely high concentrations.

Exposure to such particles can affect both the lungs and heart.  Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • nonfatal heart attacks
  • irregular heartbeat
  • aggravated asthma
  • decreased lung function
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing
  • increased risk for cardiovascular disease for people with diabetes

Frequently Asked Questions

Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5 is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and is a product of combustion, primarily caused by burning fuels.

Coarse particulate matter, or PM10, is less than 10 micrometers in diameter and it primarily comes from road dust, agriculture dust, river beds, construction sites, mining operations and similar activities. The Borough primarily experiences PM10 as blowing dust.

Borough primarily has documented 2 different particulate matter (PM) air quality issues. Areas in the Borough experience blowing dust particles, typically in the fall and spring, primarily from natural sources (glacial silt) and is therefore not required to control sources of dust pollution.  The Butte area has documented elevated PM2.5 levels which can be exacerbated by inversions in the winter months that trap smoke from wood stoves, burn barrels, and slash burning close to the ground. 

Dust is a form of particle pollution (see "what is PM10") and the Borough does experience elevated levels of PM10. When we experience high wind events, conditions are dry and low river levels expose large gravel bars and tidal flats (typical in fall and spring), large amounts of glacial silt can be stirred up and carried down the valleys.  The Borough issues several air quality alerts per year because of these wind-blown dust events, but because these elevated PM10 levels are from a natural source, and often not reasonably controllable, rather than being we are not required to control the sources of dust pollution, we are required to mitigate the impacts through air quality advisories and public education. 

PM2.5 is associated with more severe health consequences: the smaller the particle, the greater the potential to impact health because they are small enough to slip through our natural defenses in the oral and nasal passages and penetrate farther into the respiratory tract and even enter the bloodstream. PM2.5 particles can lodge in the very small air sacs of the lungs which can slow the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide and cause the heart to work harder to achieve the same rate of transfer.   These are similar to the health effects caused by the particles in cigarette smoke. This effect is most noticeable in children and the elderly as well as people with respiratory diseases like bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, or heart problems. However, particulate inhalation can affect all people and adverse effects may only appear after repeated low concentration exposures or exposure to extremely high concentrations.

DEC began monitoring ambient air quality in Palmer/Butte area in summer 1985 in response to smoke generated by fires used to clear land in Point Mackenzie. As a result of this sampling, heavy dust loads were detected, and, by the 1990's Borough complaints about dust in Butte/Palmer had increased.

Currently, there are two PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) monitoring sites in the Borough Valley: one in Palmer, at S. Gulkana St. and one in the Butte, at Harrison Ct.  In addition to the current monitors, previous sampling locations within the Borough include:                                                                                                                                    

  • Palmer Parks and Maintenance Building (1973-78)
  • South Big Lake Road (1985- 2003, with PM2.5 monitoring from 3/4/2000 to 12/31/2002)
  • Kirsten Square - 1451 E Parks Highway (1/1/1986- 7/31/1986)
  • Colony School Drive (4/11/1998-12/31/1998)
  • Trapper Creek (Established in 2001, still ongoing monitoring for the NPS IMPROVE site, transport site for Denali National Park)
  • 100 W Swanson Ave, Wasilla (1/1/2008-9/30/2012)- closed due to budget cuts and low measurement levels

Federal requirements mandate at least one PM2.5 State and Local Air Monitoring Station (SLAM) for areas with populations between 50,000 and 500,000:                                                            

  • At least one site must be placed in a location that is expected to have the maximum concentration. (Butte meets this requirement)
  • At least one PM2.5 monitoring location in an area with a most recent three-year design value that is ≥85% of any PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). (Butte exceeds 85%)
  • At least one PM2.5 site to monitor regional background and regional transport. (Palmer site meets this requirement)

This site is considered a regulatory State and Local Air Monitoring Station (SLAMS) site. It is very difficult to get permission to remove a monitoring site. Federal rules require the following for removal of a PM2.5 SLAMS site:                                                                                                                                                        

  • The monitor has shown attainment and has a probability of less than 10% of exceeding 80% of the NAAQS during the next 3 years. (Butte cannot show this probability)
  • A monitor that has not measured violations of the NAAQS in the previous five years (Butte has measured violations in the past 5 years)
  • A PM2.5 monitor which EPA has determined cannot be compared to the NAAQS because of its siting. (Butte does not have a siting issue)
  • A SLAMS Monitor not eligible for removal under the above may be moved to a nearby location with the same scale of representation if logistical reasons beyond the state’s control make it impossible to continue operation at its current site. (The Butte site is in a public right of way. This option section typically refers to sites on private property where the land owner wants to have the site removed.)
Ambient air quality monitoring is expensive. Monitoring stations have to be set up for at least 3 years to produce sufficient data to compare to the national standards. This requires a lot of money for equipment and staff. In recent years, due to the State budget situation, the State has reduced the number of monitoring stations. DEC currently does not have the staff or funding to expand the monitoring network. DEC relies on public complaints to identify other areas of concern.
When setting up air monitoring to represent an area, at least one of the sites is required to be in an area with the highest air pollution. When funding is limited, and resources exist only for one site, it should be located in the area of highest impact. In this way, a limited monitoring network is still protective of the public and when that monitor shows good air quality, one can assume that the other areas are clean as well.
Simply put, the Borough does not have the authority to manage local air quality programs without an MOU with the State. The Alaska State Legislature has mandated that the Alaska DEC assess, evaluate, and mediate environmental issues that may affect the health and welfare of residents within the state (Title 46 of the Alaska Statutes). Authority for managing air quality can be delegated to a second class borough (AS 29.35.210) through AS 46.14.400 which requires DEC approval of any local program through a cooperative agreement or MOU. Without an MOU, the Borough does not have broad powers to create or manage local air quality programs which include actions like updating outdated Air Quality Code (Matanuska-Susitna Borough Code 8.30), implementing a voluntary cost-share program for homeowners looking to improve the efficiency of their home heating devices, or providing a seasoned-wood swap out program.
The current MOU has been in effect since 2006 and it focuses primarily on DEC and the Borough working together to ensure that air monitoring results and health effects are communicated to the public. In this MOU, DEC supplies and operates the monitors and assists the Mat-Su Borough in communicating advisories and alerts. It is important to note that these advisories and alerts relate not only to PM2.5 issues, but also to PM10 and is a critical notification for people that can have major health impacts when air quality is compromised.

No.  The MOU in and of itself does not allow the Borough to restrict citizen use of wood stoves.

Such restriction would require a code change and assembly action including public hearing and assembly vote. Wood stoves are an important heating source for many residents especially in areas where other heating sources such as natural gas are not available. Residents are encouraged to purchase wood stoves that meet efficiency standards and operate and maintain them properly.

Contact

For more information about air quality in the Mat-Su call 907-352-DUST (3878).