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article imageThe dirtiest air in the U.S. can be found in North Pole, Alaska

By Karen Graham     Dec 26, 2016 in Environment
North Pole - Santa was probably happy to get away from the North Pole for a short time as he made his toy deliveries at Christmas, if only to get a breath of clean air. During last week's cold snap, North Pole, Alaska had six days in a row where the air was unhealthy.
The New York Times puts the blame for the unhealthy air in North Pole, Alaska on a decidedly Alaskan pollution problem: wood stoves.
In a town where St. Nicholas Drive intersects with North Santa Claus Lane, a dirty haze is sometimes so thick it is hard to see the street light poles painted to look like festive red-and-white striped candy canes. When the cold weather hits, wood-fired stoves are used to warm up fingers and toes as well as homes and shops, where despite the cough-inducing smoke, life seems to go on as usual.
Many people still use the old, inefficient wood-burning stoves, and when the smoke goes up the chimneys, layers of frigid cold air force the smoke back down to ground level. This phenomenon results in some of the highest PM 2.5 readings in the United States.
Pollution is measured using PM 2.5 readings, a measure of fine-particulate matter in the air. As a matter of fact, the Fairbanks News-Miner last week reported that for six days running, the PM 2.5 readings were in the "unhealthy" range. But in Alaska's Fairbanks and North Pole, a suburb, of Fairbanks, the high PM 2.5 levels are intermittent, and usually seen when the air is stagnant on cold winter days.
The Fairbanks-North Pole area is about the size of New Jersey, and natural gas is in short supply, while heating oil is expensive. So heating with wood is the most economical move when temperatures hover around -20 degrees below zero. Interestingly, many residents don't really seem to worry much about PM 2.5 readings and are actually more concerned about the cold air.
The air pollution that engulfs Fairbanks and it's suburbs is a one-of-a-kind thing and doesn't hang around all through the year. It is not the same as Beijing, China's pollution, brought on by automobile exhaust and coal-burning factories and homes, nor is it like the ozone-laden smog that hits Los Angeles during the summer. It is entirely Alaskan.
More about fairbanks alaska, Air quality, PM 25, woodburning stoves, North pole
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