Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Air Quality for Palmer and Butte




mat su clean air

We Need Your Help

Our community of Butte eperieneces air quality issues in the winter, and we need your help.

We have all seen the dust in the air on windy days, but have you noticed the smoke that lingers when it's cold and calm? Smoke from burn barrels, slash burning, and wood stoves can ge trapped in the calm inversion layer causing spikes of poor air quality -  especially during the cold winter months.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the air qualtiy monitor located in the Butte has recorded pollutant levels high enough that the EPA has warned the Matanuska-Susitna Borough that we are not complying with federal law. Our neighbors to the north in Fairbanks understand painfullly well the costs and redtape that air qualtiy air quality violations bring. In November, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel briefed the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, describing the millions of lost tax dollars and employee hours spent trying to restore air quality to avoid more federal fines and additional corrective actions. We can avoid this with your help.


Burn Wisely

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:

the wood in half at least once. Your wood should be less than two feet in length.
in a pile to allow for adequate air flow.
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.
money and our air. Burning dry wood means your fire burns hotter so you burn less wood.

Understanding the Science

Particulate matter (PM) is the term for solid or liquid particles found in the air. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small they can be detected only with an electron microscope. Because particles originate from a variety of mobile and stationary sources (diesel trucks, woodstoves, power plants, etc.), their chemical and physical compositions vary widely.

Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. 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.

Coarse Particulate Matter (PM10) is less than 10 micrometers in diameter. It primarily comes from road dust, agriculture dust, river beds, construction sites, mining operations and similar activities. Most people in Alaska experience PM10 as dust.

Air Quality Facts

Air Quality FAQ’s

1. Is the Borough going to restrict the use of wood stoves?

There are no current or future plans to restrict the use of wood stoves in the Borough. Wood stoves are an important heating source for many Borough 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 them properly.

2. Does the new MOU with DEC require the Borough to establish air quality regulations?

The proposed 2017 MOU between DEC and MSB would replace a 2006 MOU that describes cooperative efforts to address air quality issuesThere are no requirements in the 2017 MOU to establish regulations or expend funds.

3. What is PM 2.5 and where does it come from?

Particulate pollution, also called particulate matter or PM, is a mixture of solid and liquid particles that are suspended in air. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. PM2.5 is a product of combustion, primarily caused by burning fuels. Examples of sources include power plants, vehicles, wood burning stoves and wildland fires.

4. Does dust from glaciers cause air pollution?

Blowing dust particles do cause air pollution and can negatively affect people’s health. Dust particles are measured as PM 10 since they are larger than PM 2.5 particles. The Borough issues air quality alerts when PM 10 levels are high to warn people of respiratory issues. Since the causes of dust pollution in the Borough primarily come from natural sources (glacial silt), the borough is not required to control sources of dust pollution.

5. Will the Borough have to adopt air quality regulations such as Fairbanks has done?

The Fairbanks North Star Borough has had a designated non-attainment area for PM 2.5 since 2009. It includes the more developed areas of the Borough around the City of Fairbanks and North Pole. Once an area is designated non-attainment, the local government is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a plan to reduce pollution which may include regulations.

The Mat-Su Borough does not have a designated nonattainment area and is working with residents to voluntarily take steps to avoid that designation.

6. What’s the primary cause of rising PM 2.5 levels in the Mat-Su?

PM 2.5 levels increase on very cold windless days when people are burning large quantities of wood to heat their homes. The primary area of concern for PM 2.5 is in the ButteDEC maintains a monitoring station in the Butte which has recorded PM levels since 1998. In 2017, PM 2.5 levels were above national health standards in the Butte for four days in January and February.

7. How can people reduce PM 2.5 pollution from wood smoke?

Burn dry wood. Dry wood burns hotter, heats more efficiently and causes less creosote build- up in stove pipes. Convert to natural gas if available. The Butte area does have natural gas but many people have not yet been connected.

8. What does it cost to connect to natural gas?

The costs vary depending on the length of the connection and conversion of appliances such as furnaces. Starting costs can be around $5,000. Contact Enstar and heating contractors for estimates.

For more information go to:

Or contact: MSB Planning and Land use Department, 907-861-7851.

Potential 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
  • More likely to be active
  • Breathe more air per pound
  • Bodies still developing
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


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

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. 
Listen to the discussion here.