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Air Quality Information

Health Effects

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

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City of Prince George Clean Air Bylaw

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.

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Open Burning Regulations

The Problem
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.

The Costs
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.

The Solution
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.

Provincial Regulation
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.

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Wood Stove Education

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.

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Vehicle Idling

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.

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Fugitive Emissions

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).

Street Sweeping
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.

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Industrial Emissions

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.

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Questions & Answers (Q&A)

See Frequently Asked Questions about Prince George Air Quality. 

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