East Kootenay has higher respiratory problems than the province

Golden's Air Quality Committee hosted an open house last week to discuss various issues with local air quality.

The Golden and District Air Quality Committee hosted an open house as well as a series of presentations and discussion on Feb. 11 in order to better educate the public on what remains an important issue for locals. Part of that event was the formal release of the Golden and District Air Quality Management Plan for 2015-2017, which offered updates and future goals for Golden’s air quality.

Golden’s location in the Columbia Valley, its various industries and the popularity of wood burning stoves for winter heating all contribute to Golden’s often poor air quality.

According to Statistics Canada, incidences of respiratory diseases, asthma and lung cancer deaths are higher in the East Kootenay Region than both Metro Vancouver and the province as a whole.

Annette Lutterman the Air Quality Committee’s consultant, said that Golden experiences many days with far superior air quality when compared to Vancouver, but it also experiences days that are much worse as well. It all depends on the conditions.

“It’s not like a larger city where we have consistently bad air quality,” she explained.

“If we look at the data compared to Vancouver, however, we have days that are far worse…the levels of particulates that we have in the air are absolutely a serious concern for your health at those times.”

Particularly vulnerable time periods include the winter heating season, the late winter months when roads are dry and covered with traction materials, as well as during summer events such as large forest fires and prescribed burning.

So what can be done to improve Golden’s situation? Plenty, and the responsibility resides with locals as much as it does the industrial sector.

The Town of Golden has offered $500 rebates in the past for individuals who exchanged their out dated wood burning stoves for newer, more efficient models. A total of 407 old wood stoves have been removed in Golden and Area A under this rebate program since 2004, but simply having a newer, more efficient stove isn’t enough.

“Burning properly is hard and there are a lot of good stoves that are cranking out a lot of garbage because they’re not being burnt properly,” said Meg Langley, an Air Quality board member.

Lutterman made an interesting comparison when it comes to poor wood-burning practices while promoting the creation of a nuisance bylaw to deter residents from doing so.

“I’m not allowed to throw garbage into the street in front of my house. I’m not allowed to dump oil into the river. But I am allowed to spew as much smoke as I want into the air,” she said. “You can choose not to walk down my street, or not to drink the tap water, but you can’t choose what air you breathe.

“We as residents need to take responsibility…we need a culture shift here where people begin to understand that it’s simply not acceptable to pollute your neighbourhood.”

Mayor Ron Oszust was in attendance on Feb. 11 and agreed that there was plenty of work to be done with regards to air quality in Golden. He said that Lutterman, who delivered a presentation to council in January, would be meeting with Town of Golden Manager of Operations Chris Cochran in the near future to continue the dialogue.