A mantle of smoke overhangs the city on Nov. 7, indicating a thermal inversion of the sort that commonly traps harmful smoke particulate in winter. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Air Quality Council talks about air quality in the Alberni Valley

Public meeting will include VIU’s mobile air quality van

Port Alberni’s Air Quality Council will be holding a meeting next week to educate the public about the Alberni Valley airshed and how it impacts residents.

READ: Open burning restrictions expected to improve air quality in Port Alberni

Anna Lewis, chair of the Air Quality Council, says that the goal of the engagement session on Monday, March 11 is to make people more aware of how air quality affects public health.

“Air is one of those things you can’t really see,” explained Lewis. “There are no jurisdictional boundaries. We’re trying to raise that awareness.”

In 2017, Port Alberni was “red-listed” by the Canadian Air Quality Management System for exceeding the national standards set for a particulate matter called PM 2.5. According to Lewis, Port Alberni still exceeds those standards.

“We live in a Valley,” she explained. “We are bounded by these beautiful mountains. Stuff gets trapped in here and can’t escape, and our base population is breathing this in.”

According to the Air Quality Council, air pollution in the Alberni Valley comes primarily from smoke from open burning and residential wood heat, industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust. Pollution is exacerbated by the mountainous geography and climactic conditions of Alberni Valley’s airshed, which hinders the dispersion of emissions.

During the upcoming meeting, Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback will speak about the linkages between air quality and public health.

“He’s been a real ambassador for good air quality,” Lewis said. “The impact is pretty far-reaching.”

In addition, Lewis will provide a snapshot of air quality within the Alberni Valley and key action areas identified by the draft air emissions inventory.

Part of the community presentation will also include preliminary results from researchers with Vancouver Island University, who spent the last year sampling volatile organic compounds within the Alberni Valley with their mobile van.

READ: Air quality research van hits the streets in Port Alberni this summer

The van, which includes mass spectrometers that take a “fingerprint” of the air, can pinpoint all the different particles in the airshed. The air quality van was a pilot project that included five runs in the summer and five runs in the winter. Researchers will now be speaking to their preliminary results, with full results to be released to the public at a later date.

“People can come and see what’s going on and have a chance to talk to the researchers,” said Lewis.

The community presentation will take place from 6:30-8:00 p.m. in the Dogwood Room at the Echo Centre on Monday, March 11. The air quality van will be on site at the Echo Centre between 6:00-6:30 p.m. and will be open to the public.


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