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Report: Fairbanks air quality among nation's worst

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By Mary Pemberton
Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The American Lung Association's annual report looking at air quality finds that Alaska's largest city has some of the cleanest air in the nation while the state's second-largest city has some of the worst.
The association's "State of the Air 2013" report released Wednesday says Anchorage ranks 14th among the nation's cleanest cities and has low levels of air pollution when compared to other cities its size.
The report says the air pollution in Fairbanks is far worse. It says Alaska's second-largest city ranks as the No. 9 most polluted city in the nation for short-term particle pollution and No. 14 worst for year-round particle pollution. The study says particle pollution in Fairbanks can spike dangerously for hours or weeks, or remain unhealthy year-round.
Researchers used Environmental Protection Agency pollution data gathered from 2009-2011 to come up with its air quality "report card" for cities nationwide. The data comes from monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution: ozone and particle pollution.
Anchorage received an A grade in the report. Fairbanks got an F, and Juneau got a C. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, a growing area north of Anchorage, also got a C.
The data reveals that Fairbanks' air quality is worsening year-round. Summer air pollution due to wildfires that fill the air with smoke and particles has been an almost yearly problem. However, the association says that winter air quality is deteriorating with the main culprit being pollution coming from wood-fired home heating units.
It says rising fuel costs and little access to natural gas means that more and more Fairbanks residents are heating with wood in units that emit high levels of particle pollution.
The association says there are currently no regulations restricting wood stove use in Alaska.
Earlier this month, the Fairbanks North Star Borough leaders approved an enhanced wood stove trade-out program. The voluntary program is part of a continuing effort to ease particulate pollution that is targeting areas of West Fairbanks and North Pole. The program will pay owners to trade out their outdoor heaters and wood stoves for cleaner-burning devices, and switch to pellet fuels.

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