by Andru McCracken

Matt Wagstaff is measuring air quality throughout Valemount as a part of his masters thesis in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. / SUBMITTED

Valemount has the worst air quality in the province as measured by the air quality monitor at the Valemount Fire Hall, but is that a good indicator of every neighbourhood in Valemount? Are some neighbourhoods smokier than others?

Last week a masters student from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and several local volunteers helped build a smoke map of Valemount.

Matt Wagstaff developed the project as a part of his masters thesis in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.

Wagstaff said occupational hygienists usually work in industries where populations are small and exposure to pollutants is high, so studying smoke exposure in BC communities took some ingenuity.

Last winter he worked on a method of measuring patterns of residential wood burning and developed a mobile monitoring system to take samples throughout town. You might have witnessed his slow moving vehicle driving systematically through just about every street in town last week.

“When people think of air pollution they typically picture a single point source such as an old mill or factory and you can see where the emissions are coming from,” he said.

But with wood smoke, there are many sources in the community due to residential wood stoves.

“There is high variability,” he said. “This will give us some idea of how the patterns vary and tell us how well the existing air quality monitor is placed,” he said.

The existing air quality monitor maintained by the province is located on top of the fire hall.

“The hope is to make this method available for community groups across the province to use this without charge,” he said.

Wagstaff is running the program in Valemount and in Golden, BC.

Sarah Henderson of the BC Centre for Disease Control said the air quality map will help better understand the problem.

“What that allows you to do is have better conversations with the people in the those neighbourhoods,” she said.

She said that there are easy options that help reduce the amount of woodsmoke.

“Educational campaigns can improve the way people are burning and it would be valuable for the entire community,” she said.

Want to keep tabs on local air quality? You can see air quality readings in real time (one hour delay) by searching the web for “valemount air quality.”

Do you struggle with respiratory problems that are aggravated on smokey nights? We’re interested in your story.