- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 2, 2017

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reclassified Fairbanks as a “serious” non-attainment area for its failure to meet clean air standards.

The new designation announced Monday means the Fairbanks North Star Borough will have to dramatically reduce its levels of fine particulate pollution by the end of 2019. The borough and the state are expected to come up with a plan for how to best curb pollution this year, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://bit.ly/2qtDmm0 ).

Fine particulate is a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep in the lungs. It can cause premature death in people suffering heart and lung diseases.

The borough’s pollution problems are in large part due to woodstoves used by many residents to heat homes in the frigid winter.

“The big challenge is that the need for heat is greatest when burning wood is most likely to be harmful to public health during severe cold air inversions that trap the fine particulates from wood smoke closer to where people are breathing the polluted air,” the EPA’s Tim Hamlin said in a statement.

Fairbanks was one of three U.S. communities to receive the serious designation for noncompliance with clear air standards on Monday. The other two were Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah.

Borough officials had been notified beforehand about the new classification. They have been working to develop new smoke pollution control measures for several months.

“We knew it was coming,” said Jim Williams, chief of staff at the borough. “We’ve been preparing.”

The borough is awaiting a $2.5 million federal grant to continue a program that allows residents to swap out or fix inefficient, pollution-causing woodstoves, outdoor wood boilers and other devices used to warm homes or businesses.

More than 11,000 wood-burning devices are used in the borough and about 1,260 homes use solid-fuel heating devices as a sole source of heat, according to the EPA.

Hamlin said the EPA will continue to work with the borough and the state “to find solutions that will achieve both clean, healthy air and warm homes.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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