Some of the most polluted winter air in the United States can be found in and around Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks North Star Borough routinely exceeds limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for particle pollution that can be inhaled and cause myriad health problems.
Nearly 50 scientists from the U.S. and Europe went to Fairbanks to study the sources of pollution, how the contaminants interact in the city’s cold and dark climate. Their aim is to come up with a list of best practices for people living across the circumpolar north.
What they find could help city planners make better decisions on where to place power plants or smelters in northern climates and guide lawmakers on how to regulate chemicals in fuel oil or other sources to reduce the harm.
Fairbanks suffers from winter inversions, layers of warmer air that trap cold, dirty air and keep it from dissipating. Even though wind is blowing aloft, the cold air prevents the wind from getting down to ground level.
In Fairbanks, a major source of pollution comes from wood-burning stoves, which are common in this area where wood is plentiful and cheap. The mixture of pollutants from smoldering wood fires, cars, coal and other sources releases additional chemicals that can be more harmful than cigarette smoke.
A number of people were interested in finding out what the air was like inside their homes. That is just as important as finding out what the air was like outside.