Stoked on solutions air quality Part I: A flammable issue

smoke, air quality, smog, fog, chimney
File photo

This is the first of a five part series about Valemount’s air quality. Valemount’s air quality issue is not a new one. This series of articles will examine the problem in detail, the impact on people’s health, the myths about how to solve the problem, and possible solutions, from easy to far reaching. In this first piece we’ll examine some of the rhetoric that has prevented productive discussion and details of an upcoming air quality forum.

by Andru McCracken

Unlike many jurisdictions, Valemount lacks affordable alternatives to wood heat. Valemount does not have access to natural gas or the infrastructure to distribute it through the community.

Natural gas is considered by many to be a low cost alternative to wood heat. The lack of it is sometimes cited as a reason the issue simply can’t be tackled.
In a popular local social media forum a resident asserts that without natural gas, there’s nothing that can be done.

“When you get natural gas here then people will stop burning wood (maybe) but until then, I, for one, will do whatever I can to lower my electric bill. If that means burning wood then so be it.”

A post in the same forum simply informing residents about an upcoming Air Quality and Health Forum quickly disintegrates into name calling and allegations of a movement to rid Valemount of wood stoves.

“… are you willing to foot the bill for those that don’t have any other source of heat or can’t afford anything else?” asks a member of the forum.

If there are solutions that improve the airshed, they aren’t getting air time or consideration on social media.

According to the BC Lung Association, Valemount has an air quality problem, quite apart from smoke witnessed this summer during the wildfires. Data from 2016 shows that by the province’s measuring stick, Valemount’s air quality is the worst in the province. And not by a little.

As a result, the association and its partners, including the BC Government, UBC and the Centre for Disease Control are hosting and Air Quality & Health Forum at the Valemount Community Hall on Friday, October 27 from 6 to 8 pm.

The forum will provide information about pollutants in woodsmoke, how those pollutants move through the atmosphere, the health effects and ways to manage air quality.

Two of the panelists are experts in the health impacts of pollutants. They are Michael Brauer, a professor of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia and Sarah Henderson a senior scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Also present will be Gail Roth who is an air quality meteorologist at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

This isn’t Roth’s first rodeo. She’s presented at many community forums in the past, last year it was Smithers and Vanderhoof.

“On this type of issue people get very entrenched in their opinions,” said Roth. “It is not a quick process to get people turned around.”

Roth said there are economic challenges, and while they play a role, there are different options to help. She said that both the provincial and federal government are paying attention.

“The goal is to bring perspective,” said Roth. “To get a better well-rounded sound understanding of what [poor air quality] means.”

Roth said a ban on wood burning is out of the question.

“I’ve heard those types of comments before,” she said. “Some people feel there should be no wood burning.

The reality is if we base it on the data we can see what programs and actions can we put in place to start driving those numbers down.”

If you are interested in learning more about air quality and what it means for your health consider attending the forum at the Valemount Community Hall on Friday, October 27 from 6 to 8 pm.

In Part II of the Goat’s series, we will discuss indicators used to measure air quality, their accuracy, how they can be verified and what they mean.

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