Air quality program cut

  • Jan. 6, 2010 6:00 p.m.

Queen Charlotte’s air quality monitoring program is being discontinued, but a backlog at the Ministry of Environment means that data from last year hasn’t even been analyzed. Ben Weinstein, an air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of the Environment in Smithers, said that due to budget cuts, his department has had to stop air quality monitoring in a number of communities, but they hung on to Queen Charlotte for as long as they could and would likely discontinue the monitor as of the end of December. The monitor, stationed at the high school, collects non-continuous data every six days, meaning it records samples for one day and then takes five days off, so the records were never totally representative of everyday air quality anyway. The data that had been received didn’t reveal any huge issues with high particulate matter levels in the airshed, but it can easily miss air quality issues in certain areas of town. In mid-December an open-burn on the west side of the Queen Charlotte Islands General Hospital blanketed the west side of town in smoke in the late afternoon. Hospital administrator Kerry Laidlaw said smoke is definitely a concern for the hospital, due to health issues. “Smoke is bad for you.” He remembered the incident, but said they were lucky the wind was blowing the other way. “If it was blowing east I would have called municipality and the fire department,” he said. Queen Charlotte village office staff said they received a couple of calls in mid-December about smoke, but they sent them on to the conservation officer. Conservation officer James Hilgemann enforces the Open Burning Act on the islands and says he hasn’t been hearing as many complaints as he used to. But if people are breaking the law, he can give out $500 tickets. In the above instance, he said the fire was a pile of dry wood burning clean with the smoke column heading straight up when he visited the site in the afternoon. He is mostly concerned about people burning household garbage, demolition or construction debris, plastics, treated lumber and rubber tires, which are prohibited. Although backyard fires made up of foliage are allowed, open fires that are impairing neighbours must be put out immediately. He also said there are limitations on the frequency and duration of burns and those who want to light woody materials must test the fire by lighting it for one hour and ensuring the smoke goes straight up in a column. In other parts of the province, he said, people must check the venting index before lighting. As we don’t have one, this is the procedure. Anyone concerned about an open fire in their neighbourhood can contact him through the Report All Poachers and Polluters number 1 877 952 7277. Mr. Hilgemann can do nothing about wood stove smoke though. In the Bulkely Valley, people must have high efficient stoves, but those rules do not exist here he said. “I think people are getting smarter about it though,” he said. They are curing their wood and not burning the stuff they cut the same day. Mr. Weinstein offered more advice. He said that if people are noticing their smoke is putting out a lot of smoke, they should refrain from damping down the fire. “Small hot fires are the best,” he said. “You have to stoke it more but its best for the environment.”