An air quality advisory in Port Alberni has been lifted, barely 24 hours after it was first issued.
The advisory was issued for Port Alberni on Sunday, Dec. 1 because of “high concentrations of fine particulates,” according to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy in collaboration with Island Health.
Last week was marked by a cold snap, during which temperatures in Port Alberni dipped to record lows. On Friday, temperatures dropped to -9.2 C, surpassing the previous record of -7.5 C set on the same day in 2014.
According to a ministry press release, the elevated fine particulate concentrations detected in the air were the result of wood smoke emissions building up in the Alberni Valley under calm wind conditions.
Fine particulate concentrations averaged over 24 hours were 27 micrograms per cubic metre as of 10 a.m. on Sunday, which exceeds the provincial air quality objective of 25 micrograms per cubic metre.
The air quality advisory ended on Monday, Dec. 2, but more advisories can be expected in the coming months as the cold winter weather sets in.
“There’s a real correlation between when air quality advisories occur and the time of year,” explained Anna Lewis, chair of the Air Quality Council.
In the summertime, advisories are often the result of wildfire smoke. But as the weather gets colder, thermal inversions trap harmful smoke particulate in the Valley and woodstove use adds to the amount of smoke entering the atmosphere.
“We can definitely expect more [advisories] this winter,” Lewis added.
When an advisory is issued, those who are considered at risk (seniors, pregnant women and infants, people with chronic underlying medical conditions) should stay indoors when possible to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter. Strenuous activity should be avoided.
No outdoor burning should occur during an air quality advisory. People should also reduce the use and idling of vehicles.
“If you have the option of not using your woodstove…switch to another source of heat,” Lewis added.
The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s woodstove exchange program will be returning in 2020 for those who choose to exhange their old wood stoves for a cleaner burning alternative. The program has been running for 10 years now, and, according to Lewis, more than 500 woodstoves have been exchanged in the Alberni Valley alone.
“That’s a lot,” she said.
Real-time air quality observations and information regarding the health effects of air pollution can be found at: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/air-land-water/air.