2010 April 18: AK Fairbanks: Air Quality Fairbanks


How small is PM2.5?

PM2.5 particles are 28 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. These particulates are measured in microns (µm). A micron is one millionth of a meter (or one thousandth of a millimeter). The class of particulates that are subject to the EPA’s revised PM standards are those that measure 2.5 microns or smaller. The problem with these particles is that they are respirable, meaning they tend to penetrate into the gas exchange regions of the lung. As a result, they are linked to health hazards such as heart disease, lung cancer, reduced lung capacity, and earlier death for people exposed over time to high levels of PM2.5.

Particle Size

Particle Size

Particle Classification

Particle Classification

What is the source of the borough’s PM2.5?

PM2.5 Source Apportionment at Sites around Fairbanks

PM2.5 Source Apportionment at Sites around Fairbanks

The content or “source apportionment” of PM2.5 has been measured at many sites around the borough. Wood smoke is the source of more than 60 percent of the PM2.5 particles found at most sites. The chart below shows the source apportionment of PM2.5 measured at four different locations in Fairbanks and North Pole. After wood smoke, sulfate, ammonium nitrate, automobiles, and diesel are the next biggest sources of local PM2.5.

Measuring PM2.5

PM2.5 measurements 1999-2009

PM2.5 measurements, 1999-2009

PM2.5 levels have been monitored in Fairbanks for many years. The chart below shows PM2.5 measurements in downtown Fairbanks since 1999. The federal 24-hour standard for PM2.5 (the red line in the chart) was lowered in 2006. Although the Fairbanks North Star Borough exceeds the EPA standards during the summer wildfire season in the worst fire years (the highest spikes on the chart), we regularly exceed the new EPA standard during the winter.

What is Particulate Matter?

Source of PM2.5

Sources of PM2.5

The fine particulate matter suspended in our air is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. They can be emitted directly or formed in the air from gases. Sources of particulate matter can be man made or natural, including wildfires, power plants and other industrial sources, wood stoves and other space heating devices, cars, trucks and heavy equipment.

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