By Garrett Turner
Channel 2 News
6:57 PM AKST, January 15, 2013
As the sun warmed Anchorage Tuesday, January 15, it became obvious the unusual mid-winter temperatures have created a stir in the air. The Anchorage Health and Human Services Department issued an air quality advisory, which is something they say is uncommon for this time of the year.
"Usually at this time of the year we have the lowest particulate levels," Health Department Deputy Director Steve Morris said. "It's just because of the unusual events in the past couple of days we're seeing high levels. Typically we'll see this kind of stuff in late March and early April during break-up."
The Health Department has placed instruments around the city that measure the particulate matter in the air--or what scientists call PM-10 levels. Those levels make up the air quality index.
On a normal day, the levels range from 0 to 50. On Tuesday, the index was at 110. While that might be alarming, it's still considered a low level advisory and and it serves as a precautionary warning specifically for those with health concerns.
"It's targeted for people that have asthma or other respiratory problems," Morris said. People that don't suffer from those things shouldn't have much of a problem. But certainly if you you should avoid the major areas. You shouldn't run. If you're going to run today, don't run along Tudor road. Stay in the neighborhoods cause the neighborhood levels are much lower."
There are many factors for the accumulation of dust clouds, including the sand and gravel used by the department of transportation to help drivers with traction during the snowy and icy winter months.
"Yesterday the streets were drenched and the PM-10 levels were nill, very close to zero because it was wet and then 8 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours later we had these high PM-10 levels," Morris said.
While the rain over the last few days helped air quality levels, it also caused the snow to melt leaving streets sandy and full of gravel.
"There is no way that the city and or state could have swept the roads to have made an impact in that short of time," Morris said. "There's just very little I think in terms of sweeping we could have done to prevent this."
Alaska's Environmental Protection Agency has a permit that requires the DOT to sweep Anchorage roads in order to improve water and air quality when Winter turns to Spring. However, that first sweep isn't scheduled until May 15. But if the dust continues the state and federal agency may reevaluate the plan.
"In the spring time [EPA] wants us to pick up the road sand as quickly as possible to keep that sand from getting into the storm drain systems and potentially going into city wide streams," Chief of Operations and Maintenance Randy Vanderood said. "We stay in communication with the city on air quality. If we got longer extended periods of time we might look at the potential to get out to pick up the sand."
Particles that are too small to see, yet they create capable big obstacles in both air quality and the enjoyment of the day's sunrise and sunset.
Contact Garrett Turner:
Copyright © 2013, KTUU-TV