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Air pollutants in British Columbia include particulate matter, ground level ozone, total reduced sulphur, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and carbon monoxide.
The City is taking part inthe world's first air quality and health index initiative which reports on air quality similar to UV Index Reports. Current and forecast air quality conditions can be found on the Air Quality Heath Index website.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Defined as either PM10 (1/8 the width of a human hair) or PM 2.5 (1/20 the width of a human hair). These minute particles are released into the air in liquid or solid form and can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke. The sources of PM are vehicles, factories, construction activity, fires, naturally occurring windblown dust and vegetation.
Other hazardous air pollutants may adhere to PM and increase their toxicity. PM can also be formed in the air by chemical reaction of gases such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
PM, especially PM 2.5, can penetrate deep into the lungs, damaging lung tissue and reducing lung function.
Ground Level Ozone (O3)
O3 is the main component of smog. It is not a primary air pollutant within the Prince George region.
Ground level ozone is a compound formed in the lower atmosphere through the reaction of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other airborne substances, in the presence of ultraviolet light. Ground level ozone is the same as the ozone in the upper atmosphere. The only difference is elevation.
Ground level ozone in low concentrations can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and can decrease lung function and physical performance.
Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Total Reduced Sulphur (TRS)
Hydrogen sulphide is a colourless gas with a rotten egg odour. Total reduced sulphur includes hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, dimethyl sulphide, dimethyl disulphide, and other sulphur compounds. Industrial sources of H2S and TRS include fugitive emissions from petroleum refineries, tank farms for unrefined petroleum products, natural gas plants, petrochemical plants, oil sands plants, sewage treatment facilities, pulp and paper plants that use the Kraft pulping process, and animal feedlots. Natural sources of H2S include sulphur hot springs, sloughs, swamps and lakes.
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Nitrogen Oxides (which include nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)) are produced by burning fuel at high temperatures. The largest emission sources are vehicles, industry, electrical power plants and home heating.
Sulphur Oxides (SOx)
Produced when sulphur-containing fuel is burned, or when reduced sulphur removed from refined fuels or chemical processes is burned to reduce odorous emissions. The main sources of those pollutants include petroleum refineries and pulp and paper mills. The health effects include irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and SOx can lead to eye irritation and shortness of breath.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
An odourless, tasteless and colourless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of engine fuels, (mainly vehicles). CO interferes with the blood's ability to carry oxygen to the brain, heart and other tissues. Inhaling smaller quantities can slow reflexes, cause fatigue, confusion nausea and dizziness; inhaling larger quantities can be fatal.
You can learn more about descriptions, sources and health impacts from pollutants from the BC Lung Association. http://www.bc.lung.ca/airquality/airquality_primer.html
The City of Prince George's Clean Air Bylaw (No. 8266) regulates burning in the City of Prince George. The bylaw focuses on:
More information on the changes can be found on the City of Prince George website.
Open burning used to be an acceptable way to dispose of household and yard waste. It's now known that burning such materials releases toxic chemicals (dioxins and volatile organic compounds) and microscopic particles (liquid and solid particles) into the air.
The by-products of open burning can cause and aggravate health problems. Residential open burning containers are typically barrels, 45 gallon drums, home made burn boxes and outdoor fire pits, which in themselves are sources of toxins and pollutants. These residential sources are uncontrolled and lack filters or other air pollution control devices.
Open burning of logging and land clearing debris has been regulated since 1993 by provincial smoke control regulations. These regulations specify minimum atmospheric mixing conditions and limit the duration of individual burning operations. However, other factors controlling combustion and dispersion of pollutants, such as residue dryness, overnight wind and temperature, and the combination of multiple burns which also affect smoke impacts, are not included.
And because open burning emits pollutants close to the ground (as opposed to stack emissions, for instance) ground-level concentrations of pollutants nearby can be quite high.
We all share the air and when open burning happens we are all exposed to the health risks. The smoke can get into buildings and contaminate indoor air. The toxic chemicals released into the air during a burn eventually settle on lawns and green spaces, onto crops and into the water supply.
When multiple burns occur in a neighbourhood or community the pollution can linger for days. It is most noticeable and troubling when the winds are calm or in valleys and "bowls" which are prone to atmospheric inversion.
There are many smart, simple choices people can make to solve the problems associated with open burning.
The City of Prince George's Open Burning restrictions are described in Part 3 of the City's Clean Air Bylaw.
Open burning for land-clearing, construction or forestry operations is another major source of smoke. The provincial government's Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation and its "Code of Practice" are intended to encourage the reduction and reuse of vegetative debris from these operations whenever possible.
If open burning is the sole viable option, the regulation allows it only under strict, safe conditions, which are aimed at keeping smoke to a minimum.
For more information, see the Guide to the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation.
Health Effects of Wood Smoke
The fireplace used to be a traditional part of the Canadian home. However, the practice of using the wood stove or fireplace for heat can now also be a source of pollution and toxins. We must take care when using wood as a heating source because it affects the air we breathe.
Studies have found that wood smoke contains many chemicals also found in tobacco smoke, including known cancer causing agents and priority hazardous substances (See Burning Issues).
Exposure to smoke causes health problems such as respiratory tract ailments and coughing and wheezing, even for otherwise healthy individuals. It also has a greater impact on asthma sufferers, young children and the elderly.
Making the Right Choice
What can you do if you rely on a wood stove as a primary heat source?
Visit the following link to find out more information on Wood Stoves and Air Quality.
The City of Prince George's Open Burning Regulations are described in Part 3 of the City's Clean Air Bylaw #8266.
No Idle Matter
Research has shown that in the peak of winter conditions Canadians let their vehicles idle for a combined 75 million minutes a day. That's the equivalent of a single car running for 144 years!
Vehicle idling creates excess and unnecessary emissions of toxic chemicals including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter.
Not only that, but idling your engine wastes fuel, costs money, and is actually harder on the vehicle engine than restarting your car.
Unfortunately, one of the most common places drivers idle vehicles is at school pick-up and drop-off zones, subjecting our school age children to higher doses of pollutants.
Action in Prince George
The City of Prince George and community partners (Canfor, City of Prince George, College of New Caledonia, Ministry of Water, Lands and Air, Northern Heath Authority, Regional District of Fraser Fort George, School District 57, UNBC) initiated an "Anti-Idling Campaign" in 2005. Idling Hotspots were identified in the partners' parking lots and signage has been put in place to create awareness of "Idle Free Zones."
What can you do?
More information on the impacts of vehicle idling, and what you can do to help, can be found at Idle Free BC.
What You See... And What You Don't
Fugitive emissions arise from non-point sources. They include things such as road dusts, agricultural dusts, dusts that arise from materials handling, construction operations, outdoor storage piles, landfills, etc. The composition of fugitive emissions varies depending upon the materials used or stored, adjacent land uses, local emission sources and traffic loads.
Road dusts consist of particulate matter from vehicle exhausts, tire wear, pavement wear, brake wear, etc. Road dusts can result from tracking mud out from construction sites and industrial sites (particularly from unpaved roads), blow-off from construction sites and storage piles, and the deposition of materials from the air, including industrial particulates and vehicle emissions. Road dusts can contain elevated levels of toxic substances such as chromium, manganese and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Fugitive gas emissions from refuse discharges from land filling, composting and land farming of solid waste activities consist of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
During an average winter, the City of Prince George deposits approximately 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes of sand on City streets and sidewalks to improve traction on icy surfaces. The sand contributes particulate matter to the air during cold dry weather in the winter and in the spring until it is cleaned up.
The City conducts road sweeping to approximately 550km of paved road and 150km of sidewalk beginning when the main roads are clear of ice and temperatures permit the use of water to suppress dust without freezing.
Spring sweeping normally lasts up to 10 weeks. Following the initial cleanup of neighbourhoods in the spring, additional sweeping in problem areas may take place when required.
As a part of the Research Working Group's efforts, we are collecting samples of road dirt to determine silt content.
Under the Environmental Management Act, the Ministry of Environment is charged with the responsibility of regulating the discharge of point source emissions from industrial sources in the Prince George airshed. The industrial sector includes pulp and paper mills, sawmills, planer mills and secondary wood manufacturing plants, chemical manufacturing plants, an oil refinery, cement/lime loading facilities, a sewage treatment plant, wood pellet manufacturing, gravel pits, and asphalt plants.
Point source emissions that affect air quality arise from the discharge of waste via stacks, dryers, heaters, and boilers. Industrial pollutants from air discharges primarily contain the following: particulate matter from the combustion of fossil fuels, VOCs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone and carbon monoxide. Other pollutants may be present depending on the nature of the source.
Industrial emissions from other sectors include commercial operations such as mechanical manufacturing, the operation and storage of hazardous waste, and mobile emission sources from transportation networks (e.g. railway corridors).
Particulate emissions from wood and wood byproduct combustion at the sawmills and pulp mills are removed using pollution control equipment. Coarser particulate is removed using cyclones of various types, but removal of finer particles, PM10 and PM2.5, requires scrubbers or electrostatic precipitators, which were installed on some of the pulp mill and plywood plant sources under the Phase One Plan.
Further upgrades of industrial pollution control equipment awaits the results of the source identification studies.
What is the Prince George Air Improvement Roundtable [PGAIR] and what does it do?
PGAIR is a multi-stakeholder, community-based organization that includes representatives from government, industry, First Nations, community groups, the general public, Northern Health and the University of Northern BC. (See Organizational Structure)
A non-profit society, PGAIR is committed to researching, monitoring and implementing air quality improvements and to working with the people of Prince George to improve quality of life in the community. We are guided by the following principles:
What's the difference between PGAIR and the Mayor's Task Force on Air Quality – and what is PACHA?
PGAIR has been operating since 1998. It was formed following completion of the Air Quality Management Plan, developed jointly by the City of Prince George, the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, UNBC, CNC, Northern Health and the Ministry of Environment. Formerly known as the Prince George Air Quality Implementation Committee [PGAQIC], PGAIR is an independent organization that provides advice and recommendations on implementing Air Quality Plans. Its affiliated working groups also monitor, manage and research air quality issues.
The Mayor's Task Force on Air Quality was established in 2006 to independently examine the progress being made toward improving the air quality in Prince George. It will review steps taken to date, best practices in other jurisdictions, and current research. It will also conduct a public consultation to evaluate general understanding, perceptions and expectations about air quality issues. It will then make recommendations on ways to improve air quality management. A final report is expected by the end of 2007.
PACHA, or People's Action Committee for Healthy Air, is a citizen-run watchdog group with two stated goals:
For more information, please visit the PACHA website.
Where can I get more information about air quality in Prince George?
A: In addition to the information on this site, you can request further information by completing an e-mail Feedback Form. Current air quality conditions can be found on the Air Quality Health Index website.
Where can I provide comment about air quality in Prince George?
A: We are pleased to provide a Feedback Form on our website. As well, you are welcome to provide feedback on air quality issues to the City of Prince George at: airquality [at] city.pg.bc.ca.
How can I find out if there is an Air Quality Advisory in effect in Prince George?
A: There are a number of ways to find if an Air Quality Advisory is in effect in the city;
What is an "Airshed"?
A: Airsheds are geographically unique because their boundaries aren't constant. The boundaries are usually determined by topography (hills and valleys) and weather conditions (especially wind speed and direction). When those conditions combine there can be times when the air is still and is prevented from circulating within larger climate patterns.
The Prince George Airshed is defined as: "The mass of air contained within the municipal boundaries of Prince George and the immediate surrounding communities of the Regional District, and particularly that air mass contained and affected by the natural topographical features at the confluence of the Nechako and Fraser Rivers." (Source: Phase 1 and 2 Plans)
What are the boundaries of the Prince George Airshed?
A: The Prince George airshed is generally considered to run from the northern city limits, south as far as the end of the BCR site, west to the western edge of Beaverly, and east as far as Tabor Lake. View the Prince George Airshed map for visual reference.
What is a temperature inversion?
A: A temperature inversion occurs when the air near the surface of the earth is cooler than the warmer air above. The cooler air is heavier and will not mix with the warmer air. This happens most often when the atmosphere is very calm. At this time any pollutants that are released into the air are trapped in the cooler air closer to the surface and within the air that we breathe.
In the airshed, when the cooler air layer warms to the temperature of the air above it, it rises and air lying above the valley descends, bringing particulates – SO2 and other pollutants that have accumulated in the inversion from the high stack emissions – down to the valley floor. This "fumigation" process produces most of the PM2.5 episodes in the bowl.
What is ambient air quality?
A: Ambient air is the air in our immediate surroundings. Ambient air quality is measured near ground level and away from direct sources of pollution.
Are the days when the air smells bad in Prince George the days when there is more likely to be an Air Quality Advisory in effect?
A: You can have days when there is an odour in the air, but no air quality advisory. Air quality advisories are based on PM10 levels, so it is likely that contributors such as road dust and open burning may play a larger role in the advisory. On days when there is what's called a "frontal trapping" – it could be raining or drizzling – environmental PM10s may be reduced but the odour may still be in the air.
What is the difference between point and non-point source pollution?
A: Point source pollution results from stationary emission sources. It is easier to monitor and manage these sources of pollution.
Non-point source pollution is produced by a combination of various sources that are too small to measure individually, such as vehicle emissions and fireplaces. The combined effect of these individual sources of pollution add up to a significant amount of the total emissions.
When does air pollution become dangerous to my health?
A: Air pollution can be dangerous in two ways: through extended exposure and through high dosage. It will depend on your personal health situation and your age. Be alert to Air Quality Advisories if you have a history of respiratory problems such as asthma, are elderly, or caring for young children.
You can learn more about descriptions, sources and health impacts from pollutants from Environment Canada's document, A Primer on Clean Air in British Columbia.
Can I install a wood stove in my home?
A: Yes, City residents are allowed to install a wood stove. However, first you must obtain a building permit from the City. Also every new or replacement woodstove installed must meet Canadian or US particulate emission standard requirements. And because of the associated fire hazards, you should check with your insurer to make sure your house insurance will allow it.
Does waiting in my car while I get my coffee at the drive-thru window count as idling?
A: Yes, any time your car is operating but at a stand still, it is technically idling. You can't avoid this in heavy traffic or at stop lights. It is avoidable when you choose to park and walk into a coffee shop or restaurant or convenience store.
How can I do my part to minimize air pollution?
A: There are many small steps that can make a big difference if we all do our part. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the news and information about the environment, air quality, climate change and related issues. The best way to do your part is to ask yourself, how do I contribute to air pollution? And the best answer is to think about your actions in terms of efficiency.