- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Efforts to clean up chronically dirty winter air in Fairbanks will get a boost from a federal grant.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday it is recommending a $2.5 million grant to swap out or fix inefficient, pollution-causing woodstoves, outdoor wood boilers and other devices used to warm homes or businesses in bitter Fairbanks winters.

The grant is from the EPA’s Targeted Air Shed Grant Program, which focuses on the nation’s worst areas for pollutants. The Fairbanks North Star Borough has recorded the nation’s highest level of fine particle pollution.

Larry Hartig, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, welcomed the funding.

“Each individual action to replace an old wood stove and burn dry wood wisely is a step toward healthier air,” he said in a statement.

Fine particulate is a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep in lungs. The particles are about one-thirtieth the size of a human hair. It can cause premature death in people suffering heart and lung diseases. It causes nonfatal heart attacks and increased visits to emergency rooms for people with respiratory or heart diseases.

Hills surrounding Fairbanks create a bowl effect. Particulate pollution spikes during severe cold air inversions that trap cold, dirty air along the ground. Woodstoves and outdoor wood boilers, also called hydronic heaters, are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of the particles, according to the EPA.

Officials estimate there are 11,333 wood-burning devices in the Fairbanks borough and 1,260 homes that use “solid fuel-fired” heating devices as their sole heat source.

State and local officials want to use the $2.5 million grant in the borough’s wood stove change-out program to swap the least efficient devices for EPA-certified devices.

The highest priority will be in areas that experience the worst air quality.

The program is expected to remove, replace or repair about 630 woodstoves or other devices. All new stoves are required to meet 2020 EPA standards for burning solid fuel.

EPA expects to award the grant when the application process is finished.

The grant is one of two in EPA Region 10, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The other is aimed at reducing air pollution from woodstoves, road dust and vehicles in in southeastern Idaho’s Cache Valley.

That grant will be used to swap out inefficient woodstoves, provide home energy audits, improve winter salt and sand operations to reduce road dust and other projects.

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