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Questions and Answers (Q&A)

Some frequently asked questions in Prince George, and our answers.

 

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.

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