New air quality monitoring equipment installed in Golden by the B.C. Ministry of Environment last January is revealing that levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air are generally higher than recorded by the old monitor.
The new monitoring system was introduced in March and data has consistently shown higher emission levels compared to the old monitor, which remains in use in order to compare data. According to local ecological consultant Annette Luttermann, on certain days the new monitor is showing air quality readings that are, especially during winter months, double those of the old monitor. Analysis of a full year of data in the coming months will help to better compare trends.
The previous monitors, which are common across B.C., would heat air samples to remove excess water. During that heating process, part of the sample would then be lost to evaporation, leading to lower readings. The new monitors provide a more accurate measurement by taking into account the portion that is lost through evaporation.
The monitors measure fine particulates in the air, the biggest air quality concern from a public health perspective among outdoor air pollutants. Because fine particulates are so small they can easily penetrate a person’s lungs.
“They get deep into your lungs. If you just have coarse dust it gets stuck in your bronchial tubes [but] very fine particles go straight down and get into the very small alveoli of your lungs and cause disease,” Luttermann said.
“They’re more difficult to filter out. If you walk around with a dust mask on, it doesn’t necessarily help you.”
Despite the fact that Golden is not a big industrial centre, its air quality levels typically rank below larger centres such as Kelowna, Richmond and Surrey, with the worst levels occurring during the winter. The reason for this, as Luttermann explains, has a lot to do with Golden’s location in the valley.
“The main reason for that is the topography. We’re stuck in this valley bottom and we periodically have temperature inversions. When you have a situation like that, any emissions or air pollution that are emitted get kind of stuck and if you have low wind speeds you can end up with relatively high levels of air pollution in Golden,” she said.
Another obstacle for good air quality in Golden is the number of people who use old and inefficient wood burning stoves to heat their homes in the winter.
“You can reduce the particulate matter coming out of your chimney by up to 80 or 90 per cent…if you are burning a wood stove and you see smoke constantly coming out of [your chimney], then you can do something about that. You can burn hotter, you can make sure your wood is very dry, you can check out your wood stove and see if it needs to be replaced,” Luttermann said.
Newer wood stoves re-burn smoke as it circulates around the firebox, which reduces emissions and burns wood more efficiently, a positive for both the environment and homeowners.
Users of old wood burning stoves can take advantage of the B.C. government’s exchange program, which can offer up to $750 in rebates on the purchase of newer models, provided the older stove is trashed.
For more information on air quality and up to the minute emission reports, visit bcairquality.ca.