Editorial: Blowing smoke

by Andru McCracken, Editor


At the coffee shop, brewery and around town I continue to hear assertions of the old guard:

Valemount doesn’t have an air quality problem.

“Other places are much worse,” they preach, raising their voices to help make the assertion stand. “Like Chilliwack, that city stinks!”

I understand exactly what they are saying. I can empathize. And what they say is true, Valemount smells great in comparison to a city that specializes in liquid manure aerosols.

I first reported on the issue of Valemount’s winter time air quality more than a decade ago for another newspaper, and the assertion that Valemount had bad air – the worst air in the province – was as ridiculous to me as saying McBride has too much traffic.

I pulled out all the stops to get the data. At the time it was manually collected by public works, but the meteorologists would not provide it to me. How can you make a claim like that and not back it up?

I was sure there was a glitch: some sort of data collection error, a calculation error, or a problem with interpretation.

Coming straight out of Edmonton, Valemount was the freshest community I had ever lived in.

Sure, on occasion I had noticed smoke rise about ten inches from a chimney, waft over 6 inches and then lazily seep down to about six feet off the ground in a growing pool, but that was just a few days a year. Truth be told I didn’t really keep track.

I often enjoyed the film noir-like conical glow of smoke beneath the street lights while walking at night.

As a young and healthy 20 something it sure didn’t bother me. Valemount was one of the best smelling places I had ever been on the planet.

Sometimes, it did bother me a titch, but when the smoke was bad it gave the whole town a Christmassy scent. Other towns smell worse.

Prince George is often so bad I grab for my throat as I step out of the car. It smells like a model airplane builder doused the town with acetone. Hinton sometimes has a rotten egg stench.

Edmonton, Vancouver, Chilliwack smell terrible.

But if I had kept track of the number of nights I saw smoke fill the streets of Valemount, I would have been in for a surprise. I would have corroborated the outrageous claims of air quality meteorologists.

Thanks to a massive investment on the part of government we don’t have to guess about air quality. There is a near real time measuring device on the Fire Hall. The data is there. A sensor monitors the level of bad stuff in the air. It is often very unhealthy and dangerous for the old and sick (and very young) to be outside at night in the wintertime.

We used to pretend that the fire hall was in a bubble of smoke. It was set up too close to a bad chimney. That may be true, but Valemount is filled with bad chimneys. Smoke is evenly distributed around town. We measured.

Next time I hear talk about how there is no air pollution, I am going to acknowledge that, yeah, Valemount smells great and then launch into a diatribe on the science.

The old guard blow hard about air quality, but remember this, just because your Kool-Aid smells like strawberries doesn’t meant it hasn’t been poisoned

Valemount Village council has struck a Clean Air Task Force. I commend them. I hope we can start working on solutions, because it is ridiculous that the community with the worst measured air quality in the province of British Columbia doesn’t even offer a wood stove exchange program.

Did you know the Goat could not operate without people buying the newspaper? Subscribe today!