Air quality and health forum held in Valemount Many residents concerned about poor air quality

Marie Birkbeck

For many people across British Columbia, especially in rural areas and smaller communities, heating their homes with wood burning appliances is a way of life, and for many others in these same areas wood smoke is a leading cause of discomfort and worry, especially for those suffering with chronic and acute respiratory and cardiac diseases.

An Air Quality Monitor has been installed on top of the Fire Hall in Valemount for the past several years, collecting and recording data including fine particulate matter (PM25). Air Quality Monitors collect information not only on particulate matter, but also sulphur dioxide, ground level ozone and nitrogen dioxide, all of which have an impact on human health.

Unfortunately, the PM25 readings from Valemount often exceed the provincial annual average objective of 8 µg/m3, and have been major grounds for concern among many local residents.

To this end a panel of experts from the BC Lung Association, British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, University of BC Population and Public Health and the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy were in Valemount last Friday to lead a public information forum on Air Quality and Health. About thirty people attended.

The presentation, which lasted just over an hour, covered many aspects of air quality from causes of pollution, components of pollution measured, health effects, alternatives, incentives, and next steps. The panel emphasized that they were not here to tell us to quit burning wood but to encourage us to incorporate best practices for wood burning and to investigate alternative sources for heating our homes.

During the question and answer period, several local citizens voiced their concerns about the state of the air and what could be done to improve or alleviate the problem.

One resident questioned whether the location of the monitor for the Village could be providing a false reading, suggesting that the southerly winds blow the residential smoke directly into the monitor.

Another attendee inquired if there were any other communities in BC with similar geographic deficiencies to Valemount where comparable studies were carried out.

In regards to the wood stove exchange program, it was brought to attention that a good number of residents are on low or fixed incomes and the incentives for upgrading were too low to be of much value. One resident was very passionate that the situation in Valemount is at a crisis level and that the community needs to actively and aggressively pursue options.

The panel suggested that the best way to approach the situation is to form an Airshed Management Program (AMP), which is most effective when locally driven and coordinated with support and input from multiple stakeholders. Judging from the concerned citizens at the forum, Valemount can expect to see an AMP started in the coming months to address the air quality issues.

A full report on State of the Air 2017 can be found on the British Columbia Lung Association website. The power point presentations used on Friday evening will also be made available on the website in the near future.