Hot spots identified on Gabriola in air quality tests

Gabriola Islanders could get a lesson in wood stove burning, after a ‘snapshot’ air test highlighted potential pollution hot spots.

Regional District of Nanaimo officials will consider education for wood stove users on Gabriola Island to help reduce potential health effects of smoke in wake of a surveillance test that appears to show elevated pockets of pollution.

The information was presented by environmental advocate Michael Mehta during a board meeting last week.

While the Ministry of Environment warns air quality snapshots can’t definitively say if there’s is a health risk, Mehta says the data does show there’s an air quality problem on Gabriola – prompting a call for further testing and better regulation of woodsmoke through awareness campaigns and complaint-driven bylaw enforcement.

His data was collected over several days using a B.C. Ministry of Environment nephelometer, which sits on the back of a vehicle and sucks in air every 15 seconds for a reading. It showed eight ‘hot spots’ where  particulate matter hit more than 48 micrograms per metre cubed. One area reached 100 micrograms per metre cubed, while the average for the island came in at 12.66, according to Mehta.

The provincial air quality objective is 25 micrograms per metre cubed, but the number is based on a daily average not interval readings and isn’t considered directly comparable to the Gabriola test.

“This is just a snapshot in time of what was there,” said Mehta. “I hope the Ministry of Environment will come and do a much more comprehensive study of air quality here, but in the meantime, I think [the RDN] should move in the direction of ... much more restrictive rules around burning.”

Education is an encouraging first step, he added.

The air quality test results are currently being analyzed and mapped by the Regional District of Nanaimo and could show hot spots worth further consideration, according to Earle Plain, air quality meteorologist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment.

The ministry provides training and equipment for air quality test to local government interested in collecting snapshot information and worked with Mehta and the Regional District of Nanaimo. The tests are a good first step and can help support different management actions, like wood stove exchange programs, Plain said.

“Any time you’ve got elevated numbers it draws attention to the fact there are probably things that can be done to improve it,” Plain said.

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