Air infested with particulate from wood smoke, according to new monitor

  • Mar. 2, 2009 7:00 a.m.

Queen Charlotte residents should be concerned about the amount of fine particulates measured in the air by the new air quality monitor, according to an air quality meteorologist. Jennifer Hayek, who works for the Ministry of the Environment in Smithers, said the new monitor has found levels of a type of particulate called PM 2.5, which is 1/20 the width of a human hair. That’s a problem, she said. “You can’t say there is an acceptable level, because any level has an associated problem,” she said. Spikes in PM 2.5 levels have been directly correlated with absenteeism from schools and hospital emissions as well as breathing and heart problems, she said. Since records started in August, the levels in Queen Charlotte have run between unmeasurable (less than 2 micrograms per cubic metre) to a high of 7.8 ug/m3 on Oct. 27. The monitor collects non-continuous data every six days, meaning it records samples for one day and then takes five days off, so the records are not totally representative of everyday air quality. The Queen Charlotte samples are sent to Victoria and the data is compiled there and then returned, causing a two-month delay in reporting. Queen Charlotte’s latest records are dated Dec. 8 when the level was 5.2 ug/m3. Queen Charlotte’s levels are not unusual, said Ms Hayek. Stewart recorded 4.5 ug/m3 on Oct. 3 and Hazelton recorded levels as high as 10 ug/m3 in late October. Other communities, like Houston, Smithers and Burns Lake have continuous monitors and show significantly more episodes in the +10 range.The province issues air quality advisories when the level reaches 25 ug/m3. Recent advisories in Prince George, for example, showed that the rolling average measured at a site downtown was 36 ug/m3 on Feb. 16. Ms Hayek said issues with the fine particulates that are showing up in Queen Charlotte could be easily addressed. “All of these problems are due to old woodstoves,” she said. Wood smoke contains more than 100 different toxic substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds and fine particulates. Fine particulates are especially dangerous for young children, the elderly or people with respiratory illnesses, as the tiny particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Ms Hayek said communities or non-profit organizations can apply for funding to start a woodstove exchange program, which provides rebates to people looking to upgrade their woodstoves. The program offers money to hire a part-time worker as well. “For Queen Charlotte that is definitely what we’d like to see,” she said. Colin MacLeod runs the Woodstove Exchange program based in Smithers. He said the idea is to have local control of the programs and then residents can access more rebate money from the province. For example, in March and April all retailers in the province can offer a $150 rebate to purchasers of certified wood stoves (the retailers have to contact their suppliers), but in Smithers with the woodstove exchange program, consumers can get another $250 back. The Town of Smithers is also offering $500, so people could get $850 off the price of a new CSA or EPA certified stove. The new wood stoves put out 70 per cent less emissions and use one-third the wood to produce the same heat. Ms Hayek said following smart burning techniques also reduces the emissions from woodstoves. She said firewood should be seasoned or dried for at least six months before use, and that burning green wood or driftwood off the beach creates more emissions.