Fairbanks teeters on edge of air violation

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Fairbanks North Star Borough officials hope residents will plug in their car's engine block heaters or use alternative transportation after high carbon monoxide readings Thursday night nearly caused the borough to have its first air quality violation of the winter.

Borough CO levels exceeded federal limits once last February. A second high reading this year could trigger additional regulations by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Ralph Malone, borough chief of staff, said the reading Thursday night was 8.6 parts per million, shy of the 9.5 threshold.

''We are holding our breath that we can make the next nine days without an exceeding, because otherwise we fall into some additional regulations which will not be good for us,'' he said.

Fairbanks is in danger of violating federal CO standards during winter when strong temperature inversions trap air in a shallow layer above the ground and prevent it from mixing. Every reading above the threshold, beyond the first one, is considered a violation.

In early April the EPA started an 18-month countdown period. By October 2001, Fairbanks must have an improvement plan or face federal sanctions. Those sanctions could include restrictions on any business expansions that would create more pollution. After 24 months the EPA could place a federal highway spending blackout on the borough.

EPA is paying for a Fairbanks study this winter that could provide more information about the effects of cold weather, idling and engine heaters. Also, the borough has begun a public awareness campaign to remind residents to plug in and cut down on cold starts.

If another violation occurs before the end of the year, said borough transportation director Max Lyon, the borough will face more stringent requirements in the attainment plan, such as having to reduce carbon monoxide by 5 percent a year.

The options borough officials may have to consider include mandatory car pooling for large businesses and closing the downtown corridor until attainment is reached.

Lyon said vehicles are responsible for approximately 80 percent of the carbon monoxide emissions in the borough.

''Right now if we can stay clean through the end of the month we will be in much better shape,'' he said.

The borough's last clean year was in 1996, when standards were exceeded only once. There were two violations in 1997, one in 1998 and two last year.

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