Juneau Issues First Winter Air Alert

Signs are posted throughout the Mendenhall Valley whenever the City and Borough of Juneau calls an air emergency. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

The City and Borough of Juneau has called the first air emergency of the winter.

For residents of the Mendenhall Valley, that means wood stove burning is banned until the alert is lifted.

An air emergency is called when particulate levels are at or near unhealthy levels and there’s no wind or precipitation to clear the air. CBJ Deputy Lands Manager Dan Bleidorn said the particulate matter is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, about 1/30th the thickness of a human hair.

“So, it’s very fine stuff,” Bleidorn said. “It causes lots of health issues. It gets lodged in the lower portions of your respiratory system. Children and elderly folks and people with asthma and things like that, they can really suffer when the limits go above what it’s supposed to be at.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits on air particulate levels. Juneau has been non-complaint with the rule in the past, but not since 2006.

Old style wood stoves produce a lot of particulate matter, which is why they are banned during an air emergency. Open burning is also banned in the Mendenhall Valley from November 1st to March 31st. Newer pellet stoves and pellet boilers burn hotter and more efficiently, so they are exempt.

The ban is enforced by the Juneau Police Department. Repeat violators can face fines up to $300 dollars, but Bleidorn said they are rarely issued.

“It seems like at the beginning they give a lot of warnings, because people are new to the valley or this is the first time of the year they’ve used their wood burning stove,” he said. “So they are just unfamiliar with the rules to begin with. And then as the season progresses, generally people come on board.

Casey Kelly is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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