Case Study: How Alaska Community Projects are Handling Air Quality Toxins with PurpleAir Monitors

Alaska Air Quality Case Study
  • Topic: Alaska air quality and the Alaska Community Action on Toxins (ACAT) 
  • Industry: Air Quality, Air Quality Technology, Community Development  
  • Author: Adrian Dybwad  
  • Website:  

The Situation of Alaska’s Air Quality 

Alaska is known for its pristine natural environment and relatively clean air compared to more densely populated areas. But it’s not immune to air quality issues. In fact, in 2019, the American Lung Association found that Alaska has some of the worst air quality in the United States.

Some factors that can contribute to air pollution in Alaska include: 

  • Wildfires: Wildfires are a significant source of air pollution in Alaska, regardless if it’s in the summer or winter. Wildfire smoke can release pollutants with fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), degrading air quality and posing health risks. 
  • Wood Burning: Wood burning for heating during colder months can contribute to localized air pollution, especially if people use older, less efficient wood-burning stoves. The practice is quite common in rural areas of Alaska. 
  • Industrial and Commercial Activities: Certain industrial and commercial activities, such as mining and shipping, can release pollutants into the air. The extent of these activities and their impact on air quality can vary, but they contribute to poor air quality regardless. 
  • Transportation: While Alaska’s population density is lower than other states, transportation-related emissions from vehicles, boats, and planes can still contribute to the region’s air pollution, especially in more urbanized areas. 
  • Arctic Haze: During certain times of the year, particularly in winter, a phenomenon known as "Arctic haze" can impact air quality in Alaska. This haze is caused by a combination of pollution from various sources, including long-range transport of pollutants from other regions. 

Recently, the Alaska Division of Air Quality issued its first smoke alert of the year in July 2023. The smoke originates from wildfires beyond the Canadian border, impacting the region's air quality.  

Observations indicate smoke traces have become visible throughout Alaska, with worsening fires and shifting winds. Consequently, air quality in Alaska has transitioned from "good" to "moderate”, and there's potential for further degradation to "unhealthy" levels according to air quality monitors. 

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires, and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes, and can even be lethal.”— Marge Stoneking, Executive Director of American Lung Association in Alaska 

The Solution to Alaska’s Air Quality Problem 

Established in 1997 by Pamela K. Miller, the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) is a non-profit entity that safeguards the well-being of Alaskan communities and ecosystems against harmful chemicals.  

The organization formed out of a need—Alaskans want to know the dangers of environmental pollution and how they could fight against it. So, ACAT promotes transparency of toxic substances in the air and collaborates with local communities to form effective strategies that curb harmful exposure. 

ACAT focuses on solving several issues, but these are three of its key missions: 

  1. Empowering Citizens: ACAT empowers citizens through education and research, advocating for policies aligned with the precautionary principle to mitigate potential risks from toxic compounds. 
  2. Protecting Resources: ACAT actively preserves vital land and water resources that sustain the state’s most vulnerable populations, including Indigenous groups.
  3. Stopping Air Toxins: ACAT engages with industrial stakeholders responsible for producing hazardous chemicals, offering guidance in adopting environmentally sound practices. 

In short, the organization is driven by a core belief in environmental justice. People must have the ability and opportunity to know and eliminate exposure to air toxins via shared science, collaborative research, education, and advocacy. 

The Method: PurpleAir Case Study in Alaska 

ACAT actively protects Alaska’s air quality by monitoring the fine particular matter or PM2.5 in its air. In 2022, the organization brought together a group of over 30 participants for the Community-Based Environmental Health Field Institute. During their time together, ACAT emphasized the negative effects of PM2.5 and organized a community mapping activity to pinpoint pollution sources in their areas.  

By leveraging data from PurpleAir’s air quality monitors, participants illustrated how PM2.5 was being carried to their villages from the landfill by wind and natural forces. ACAT was also able to get real-time air quality information from the PurpleAir Map to see the pollution levels around schools, tribal council offices, residences, and other locations. This enabled them to take targeted action and initiate the conversation about local air quality. 

With help from PurpleAir monitors, ACAT’s efforts are benefiting human health and ecological well-being across Alaska. 

Alaska’s Air Quality Today 

Supported by ACAT’s efforts and insightful data from PurpleAir, Alaska is seeing improved citizen heath and ecological well-being across the state. There is still much work to be done to ensure that every Alaskan is breathing clean air, but progress has started and the locals have no plans for slowing down their fight for better quality air. 

 Alaska air quality map PurpleAir

Source: PurpleAir Map

The information you see in the map is updated with real-time air quality data from PurpleAir monitors worldwide. Similar to ACAT, we share the belief in empowering local community leaders and organizers with valuable air quality insights, ensuring their usefulness for present and future generations. 

About PurpleAir 

Since being founded in 2018, PurpleAir has dedicated itself to providing highly precise air quality monitors that track hyper-local air quality levels in real time. In doing this, PurpleAir is empowering community scientists and helping to facilitate social change through accessible air quality data for all.  

By working together, everyone is more informed and able to make changes in their local communities to improve air quality.