Fairbanks coal fired power plants could face tighter emissions standards if upcoming studies confirm they’re contributing to local fine particulate pollution called PM 2 point 5. State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Air Quality acting director Alice Edwards says the facilities could be retrofitted to clean up emissions.
Edwards is among a group of air quality scientists from Alaska and the Lower 48 assembled in Fairbanks this week to look at sulfur’s role in local wintertime fine particulate pollution that has put the community in violation of federal health standards.
Local air monitoring has pegged wood smoke as the primary source of fine particulates, followed by sulfur from the burning of coal and heating oil. Edwards says Fairbanks could benefit from bringing in low sulfur heating oil.
Edwards says whether it’s finding a cleaner heating oil or modifying power plants, lowering sulfur emissions will add to the cost of local energy. The scientists meeting this week are designing studies to better identify the contributions heating oil and coal emissions have on ground level fine particulates. The borough is already moving ahead on an ordinance aimed at reducing particulates from wood smoke. Environmental Protection Agency scientist Krishna Viswanthan says this week’s conference is an important step to dealing with Fairbanks fine particulate problem.
Fairbanks has to have a plan for getting into compliance with current Clean Air Act fine particulate standards by December 2012 and be in compliance by 2014. Vishnawanthan says the fine particulate standard is under review as part of five-year cycle, and it’s possible it may be tightened again depending on what the latest research shows about the danger the tiny particles pose to human health.
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks