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Dust stirs up air-quality advisory

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Recent high winds, combined with unusually dry winter conditions have conspired to shroud the Kenai Peninsula in a dusty haze for the past week. Now, those clouds have caused the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to issue an air quality advisory for the peninsula.

The advisory was issued Monday as a result of airborne dust levels reaching the "moderate" to "unhealthy for sensitive groups" range across most of Southcentral Alaska.

According to the DEC official who issued the advisory, the air quality is not poor enough to have a big effect on healthy individuals. However, people with respiratory conditions might want to take some extra precautions over the next few days.

"For sensitive individuals, I like to get the word out as soon as possible," said Gerry Guay, who issued the advisory. Although it expires today, Guay said he'll likely extend it until Saturday as long as dusty conditions continue.

He said monitoring stations in Palmer, Anchorage and Homer have been recording high levels of dust for the past week or so. Readings above 150 micrograms per cubic meter are considered to be hazardous for sensitive individuals, and Guay said readings in Homer have been periodically observed at higher levels than that.

"In Homer, there have been values that were above 200," he said.

Guay said the advisory should not worry healthy individuals, but he believed it was necessary to issue it so people with health problems are aware the dusty conditions can present a hazard.

"The EPA standard (for air quality) is 150. At 200 and below we start warning the more sensitive segments of the population," he said. "That's what our job should be. To provide the public with enough information to take the proper steps to protect themselves."

Guay said people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit time the amount of time spent outdoors while the advisory is in effect.

How long that will be is anyone's guess. However, don't expect those lingering dust clouds to dissipate anytime soon. The National Weather Service is calling for the peninsula to continue experiencing dry, cool weather with plenty of wind through the rest of the week.



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