Combustion emissions, primarily from wood smoke, decreased in the community of Butte in 2018, a change from 2017 when a higher, three-year average had prompted State warnings on air quality to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
This week, Mat-Su Borough staff held an Open House on air quality with 45 Butte residents attending to discuss proposed local steps aimed at reducing emissions.
Burning dry wood has been the focus of a three-year education campaign by the Borough and the AK Dept. of Environmental Conservation. The second bullet is a new focus from the Borough.
The proposed legislation does not affect wood stoves, she said. Blackburn told the audience that a second proposed document, a renewed memorandum of understanding with the AK DEC, states clearly that the Borough does not have the authority to regulate the wood stoves of residents.
“The Mat-Su Borough wants to protect residents’ way of life including their right to heat their homes with wood,” said Blackburn.
The proposed legislation is the subject of a public hearing before the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission on Feb. 4 at 6 pm in the Assembly Chambers at 350 E.Dahlia Ave. in Palmer. Here are the documents https://www.matsugov.us/boards/planningcommission
The local government effort is intended to prevent federal government intervention and expensive mandated programs, which the community of Fairbanks North Star Borough has experienced for decades. (See a Mat-Su Borough 2017 interview with former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel)
The Mat-Su Borough is not facing the severe restrictions on burning that Fairbanks does. The Mat-Su Borough has not been classified into what’s called a non-attainment status. However in 2017, the Mat-Su Borough came close to violating the federal air quality standard with high numbers for emissions for a three-year average of the fine particles called PM 2.5, or particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. A human hair is 70 micrometers in diameter. In Butte, the tiny particles are the product of combustion, primarily from wood smoke, Blackburn said.
Also at the meeting the American Lung Association’s Jennifer Brandt told the audience that PM2.5 can be harmful to the lungs of children, the elderly, and anyone with lung ailments. Some in the audience refuted this, asking for direct study linkage of wood smoke and the effects on the local population.
Three studies on fine particulate air pollution and effects on health are linked here:
At the Open House Tuesday in Butte, the State also had a representative attending to answer questions on State air monitoring, Barbara Trost, with Air Monitoring and Quality Assurance for the AK DEC. “Since 2016 our air quality is improving,” she said. “There now is a little buffer because the standard is based on a three-year average. … They’re not trying to penalize us for a bad day or two bad days,” she said of the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency and Butte.
A State air monitor is located at Harrison Court in Butte and has been collecting data on dust since 1998 and smoke since 1999. The federal Environmental Protection Agency required monitoring of Butte in 2006 after levels reached 80 percent of the national standard, Trost said.
Trost showed the Butte crowd on Tuesday that in 2018 the annual levels of mostly smoke particulate or PM2.5 fell to 19.2 micrograms per cubic meter from 26.1 micrograms per cubic meter in 2017. The federal standard, which the Borough wants to stay below, is 35, she said.
The Borough has had an agreement with the DEC since 2006. Under its authority, the Borough has focused on an education campaign using videos, ads, and social media to share the message about the benefits of burning dry wood as opposed to green wood, which has a higher water content and does not burn as efficiently.
Three Mat-Su Borough Assembly Members attended the Butte meeting including Jim Sykes, Tamara Boeve, and Jesse Sumner.
Borough Planner Ted Eischeid read questions from the audience and Blackburn and Trost answered. The unedited audio is posted in the sidebar.
Also posted are documents that will be considered by the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission after a public hearing on Feb. 4, at 6 pm in the Assembly Chambers at 350 E. Dahlia Ave. in Palmer.
Or Planner II, Ted Eischeid at (907) 861-8606.
Here is a general link to the Centers for Disease Control on PM 2.5.
Photos by Mat-Su Borough Public Affairs.