For much of last week Golden residents were cautioned to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity due to a dust advisory affecting the area’s air quality.
The warning for high concentrations of dust in the air was issued on Feb. 23, and remained in effect for much of the week, with concerns dissipating by the time the precipitation hit on the weekend.
“The health effects of excessive dust can be serious,” wrote local air quality consultant Annette Lutterman in an e-mail.
“I (talked) with two people who were biking with the warmer weather and they said they could hardly breathe as they got closer to the town centre.”
In addition to the recent spell of dry weather, some of the blame lies with the traction material used on roads in town, which is sourced from a pit in Parson. The material is prone to breaking down into a very fine dust, creating problematic air quality conditions. A cleaner material, which is used on the town’s sidewalks, would help eliminate this issue, but at a much more significant financial cost.
In fact, it is estimated that using the cleaner product could cost as much as four or five times the amount of the Town’s current $30,000 budget for winter sanding.
The issue has been discussed in council chambers in the past but there are no immediate plans to make the switch.
If the decision is ever made to move to a cleaner product, it is likely that it would be tested through a pilot project in a small area before being implemented in the rest of the town.
“I would think that if I was going to recommend anything it would be ‘let’s do a test’…see how this thing works through winter before we dive right in,” said Chris Cochran, manager of operations at the Town of Golden.
It’s worth noting that the Town doesn’t have jurisdiction over the most heavily trafficked roads in town, including Hwy. 1 and the 10th Ave. corridor from the interchange heading south. These routes are under the jurisdiction of the province, meaning the materials used on those roads are out of the Town’s hands.
Another aspect of the dust advisory is the sheer volume of trucks that are bringing dirt and other materials down from the Trans-Canada and into town.
“Look what kind of traffic we’re getting through town and you can see it coming in. You get a logging truck coming in, all due respect to logging…those guys can’t help it, they come up to the stoplight and they’re dropping stuff all over the place. It’s an industrial corridor,” said Jon Wilsgard, the Town’s chief administrative officer.
With warming temperatures, the Town decided to start sweeping the streets five days a week, which includes both a lead watering truck and a trailing sweeper. This represents a bit of an annual gamble for Golden, as there could easily be more snow in town over the coming weeks, but waiting to see what the weather does could also compound the dust issue.
“Typically by now…we’re out of the woods. We’ll get snow but hopefully it will be that kind that doesn’t stick and it just melts out by the afternoon. Hopefully we don’t get any major freezing, ice events or we’re compelled to go right back to where we were two months earlier,” Wilsgard said.