Dr. Lawlor's Code, Robots, & Things

March 9, 2017

Fairbanks PM2.5 Air Quality Data

Filed under: Air Quality — Dr. Lawlor @ 1:49 am

Tomorrow night the borough assembly will consider Ordinance 2017-18 (page 70 in the agenda) which strengthens the current air quality prohibitions.  It’s been two years since the prohibition ordinance first passed, so I thought it was a good time to look at the AKDEC data on whether the air is now cleaner.

The biggest factor contributing to air quality here is the exterior temperature–when it’s cold, not only are people burning more home heating fuel and leaving their cars running, there’s usually a temperature inversion that traps that pollution near the ground.  So these charts use the exterior temperature as the horizontal axis; the R^2 coefficient below shows that temperature explains about half the variance in PM2.5.

Here are the last 4 years of PM2.5 data for Fairbanks.  The blue data is from the two winters before the ordinance; the orange data is from the two winters after the ordinance took effect.


Here’s the same chart for North Pole, which has much bigger air quality problems, and has had frequent air quality alerts (burn bans) in effect the past few winters.


I personally dislike the entire prohibit, tax, and fine approach that the current air quality ordinance takes–the long term solution is cheap natural gas in Fairbanks; the short term or summertime solution is indoor HEPA filters, they’re cheap and they work.

But to me the data clearly show a 15-25% reduction in PM2.5 in the post-ordinance years, even after controlling for the weather effect.  That’s a much bigger reduction than I’d expected!


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