By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy issued an air quality advisory for Valemount last week due to high concentrations of fine particulate matter, commonly referred to as PM2.5.

At midnight on February 19th, PM2.5 levels in Valemount reached 167.2 micrograms per cubic metre; however, levels declined sharply throughout the day, leading to a 24-hour average of 10.1 micrograms per cubic metre.

The Province’s air quality objective for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, so the advisory ended on February 20th at 8:00 a.m.

Wood smoke is a common contributor to PM2.5: according to Health Canada, the matter “typically consists of a mix of things like soot, smoke, liquid or solid particles in aerosol.” Health Canada adds that when inhaled deeply, PM2.5 can cause coughing, wheezing, and irritation of the eyes and nose, and aggravate pre-existing conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

The Ministry of Environment did not respond to The Goat’s interview request, instead sending a written email statement.

“We encourage the public to change out old, smoky wood stoves for cleaner heating options,” the statement reads, followed by a link to the Province’s Community Wood Smoke Reduction Program.
Additionally, Budget 2024 includes $411M to continue funding similar grant and rebate programs. That money will go towards clean transportation, energy-efficient buildings, and supporting a low-carbon economy, the statement said.

The Ministry of Finance also sent a written statement in response to a request for comment on Valemount residents’ concerns that poor air quality may be used as justification for higher carbon taxes. Annual carbon tax rates are set in statute in order to meet federal requirements, and there is no carbon tax on burning wood, the Ministry said.

“Putting a price on carbon is an important part of our CleanBC Roadmap,” the statement said. “Budget 2024 adds $411 million over four years to continue to fund grant and rebate programs for clean transportation, energy efficient buildings and communities, and support the transition to a low-carbon economy,” it continued.

The Ministry of Finance statement also referenced the Community Wood Smoke Reduction Program. Among the money earmarked for environmentally-friendly grant and rebate programs in Budget 2024 is $40M going towards the program.

“Many people who thought a heat pump was out of their price range, will now be able to afford one,” the statement said.

According to Northern Health, individuals can mitigate the negative health effects of PM2.5 by staying inside – preferably where there is a high efficiency particulate air filter or air conditioning – when particulate matter levels are high. Individuals can sign up to the Province’s Air Quality Subscription Service to receive email and text notifications when an air quality advisory is issued.