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Cleaning Up the Air in Fairbanks, AK

Pollution in Fairbanks, Alaska, during a winter heat inversion.

Pollution in Fairbanks, Alaska, during a winter heat inversion.

Alaska DEC

What's at Stake

More than a thousand health studies have shown that PM2.5 air pollution causes a wide range of serious health problems, including asthma attacks, chronic respiratory disease, reduction in lung function, hospitalizations and emergency room visits for cardiopulmonary diseases, cancer, and even premature death.

Case Overview

The Fairbanks North Star Borough has some of the worst and most dangerous air quality in the nation. Alaska community groups have joined together to demand that responsible officials address the problems that Borough residents and their families face when simply breathing in Fairbanks.

The type of fine particulate matter pollution prevalent in Fairbanks—2.5 micrometers or less in diameter—has been found to cause a wide range of serious health problems, including asthma attacks, chronic respiratory disease, reduction in lung function, hospitalizations and emergency room visits for cardiopulmonary diseases, cancer, and even premature death. Fine particulate matter air pollution is of particular danger to children, reducing lung development, causing asthma, and impairing the immune system. The elderly and those with chronic disease also face heightened risks.

Of all the areas that fail to meet EPA air quality standards for this pollutant (referred to as PM2.5 by the EPA), Fairbanks has the worst episodic pollution in the country—with levels spiking to almost double the next most-polluted area and nearly four-times the recommended limit for unhealthy air.

Sources of PM2.5 in Fairbanks include outdoor burning; wood- and coal-burning heating devices; automobiles and other vehicles; and industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants.

The air pollution problems have worsened since 2009, when state and municipal officials were first advised that soot and smoke levels in Fairbanks were unhealthy and dangerous.

Case ID

2616, 3165, 3249

Case Updates

June 9, 2016 | Legal Document

Complaint for Declaratory and Injuctive Relief Fairbanks Air Quality

Fairbanks has the worst episodic fine-particulate matter (“PM-2.5”) pollution in the nation—“worse than Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Detroit combined,” a local newspaper put it. See Exhibit 1 (Amanda Bohman, Air pollution in North Pole worse than Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Detroit combined, Fairbanks News Miner (May 27, 2016)). Defendants have known about Fairbanks’s PM-2.5 problem for half a decade at least, but they have repeatedly failed to take action mandated by the Clean Air Act.

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