Posted on Dec 30, 2016

Nobody denies that clean air is necessary for good health.  That was the basis for establishing the Clean Air Act back in the 1970s. We all desire a healthy environment and want to avoid the pollution problems cities like Los Angeles face.

Seemingly, living in the pristine north around Fairbanks, Alaska, would be a healthy option. Not so says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, the EPA says Fairbanks and the North Pole aren’t so pristine at all. The problem is small particulate concentration from wood burning stoves.  As it happens, when temperatures fall to minus twenty degrees or lower, smoke from wood fires rises and then falls back to settle around low laying areas. This inversion is causing health risks to the citizens, according to the EPA. In fact, eight years ago the EPA declared Fairbanks and the North Pole noncompliant with the Clean Air Act. To date, no sanctions have been placed on the region, but that could change soon.

                                            a fireplace in a home that is at risk of starting a fire

The EPA could start imposing fines on homeowners using wood burning stoves for heat. There could also be sanctions on the region resulting in the loss of federal transportation funding.  Caught in the middle of this quagmire are the citizens of the area.  It turns out that burning wood for heat is the most sensible option available to them.  Heating oil is too expensive for many residents and natural gas isn’t available to them. Residents of the borough spent approximately four times the national average in annual heating costs.  Ever since being declared noncompliant eight years ago, they have waited for an oil line to be built to provide natural gas, but it hasn’t happened yet.  So, although breathing air with small particulate matter from wood smoke isn’t desirable, it’s better than freezing to death. The average temperature in Fairbanks in December is minus 13 degrees. In January, it falls to minus 17 degrees, with the possibility of lows reaching minus 60.  Imposing fines on homeowners for burning wood for heat, when other affordable options are not available, would place an economic burden on residents. The method of measuring the particulate matter is also questionable, according to some.

Critics of the EPA in Fairbanks argue that the air monitor used to measure particulate matter is located in the populated area of the borough and it would be unfair to fine homeowners who live far from the city center.  Meanwhile, the EPA insists it doesn’t want to take anyone’s wood burning stove away.  The Clean Air Act has set the standards for clean air and the EPA is merely doing its job at enforcing the standard.


Tony Sanfelipo
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Senior Motorcycle Accident Investigator