Air quality

Question

Indoor air quality is important. With all the PM 2.5 in the air in Fairbanks from wood smoke in the winter and forest fires in the summer will UAF be outfitting building ventilation systems with filters so students and employees can have clean air indoors even if they community and nature choose to do nothing about it? If not, can employees use sick leave to avoid the poor indoor air quality?

 

Response

In periods of heavy smoke, UAF is frequently asked if we can keep wildfire smoke out of UAF’s buildings.
Air in most buildings on campus is conditioned to make it comfortable. Large fans bring in air from outside and push it through filters. The air is heated or cooled, depending on the season, and then sent through ducts to offices, labs and classrooms. While the filters remove dust particles, they cannot remove smoke.

If we shut down the fans, buildings would become stuffy and hot.

Our laboratory buildings have fume hoods that must exhaust air, and campus labs contain sensitive equipment that must be kept in cooled spaces. If we run exhaust fans but not supply fans, we would just suck in more smoke through doors, windows and even building cracks. We’d also risk damaging sensitive equipment.
By running the fans all the time, we remove dust particles and control temperatures to provide the most comfortable spaces we can.
Unfortunately, we’re limited in our solutions during wildland fire season.

People with sensitivities to smoke may benefit from an N-95 mask available at most stores with a hardware department or a safety gear section. Masks with exhalation valves are the most comfortable. They should fit snugly on the face. Put masks in plastic at the end of the day to avoid getting particulates inside them.

You may also find that a portable HEPA air filter in your office may help the air quality.

If you have specific health issues, please work with your supervisor about appropriate work options such as flexible work schedule or options to work from home. Where work options are not possible, the supervisor can advise on appropriate leave options.

Below is a link to the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s near-real-time air quality page. Choose the red icon to pull up the average particulate matter (PM 2.5) numbers to help guide you with activity levels and health issues.