Parksville’s Bill Lewin is part of a new network that monitors real-time air quality data from their homes. He installed the technology from PurpleAir this month as part of an effort to address a woodsmoke issue.

Parksville’s Bill Lewin is part of a new network that monitors real-time air quality data from their homes. He installed the technology from PurpleAir this month as part of an effort to address a woodsmoke issue.

Citizen scientists set up air quality monitoring

NANAIMO – Goal to provide early warning about fire threats, pollution hot spots.

Gabriola Islanders are taking air quality monitoring into their own hands.

The Gabriola Clean Air Society is using citizen scientists in a monitoring network aimed at educating people about how varied air quality can be and what people can do to address pollution.

Four air quality sensors are now on Gabriola Island and one in Parksville.

The technology is from PurpleAir, an organization that builds sensors and displays real-time data captured by the equipment on an online map, including what risk pollutants pose.

According to the society’s press release, the new monitors can act as a community smoke detector, helping to provide early warning to departments and other emergency responders of fire threats, as well as help identify pollution hot spots from residential activities, like illegal outdoor burning, garbage incineration and domestic wood burning, “all of which have an indisputable adverse impact on human health and the environment.”

Founding director of the Gabriola Clean Air Society, Michael Mehta, considers this to be Canada’s first citizen scientist distributed network. A lot of air quality monitoring is done by governments, he said, but from the society perspective there isn’t enough monitoring and there isn’t monitoring everywhere.

“A lot of smaller communities have no monitoring at all,” he said, adding that air quality is incredibly variable and can change dramatically depending on what’s happening in an area, from block to block and neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

The B.C. government does monitor air quality, with one core station in Nanaimo that monitors, among other things, fine particulate matter, and another two are owned and operated by Harmac at Duke Point and Woobank Road in Cedar. While the station isn’t going to show exactly what’s going on at Gabriola, the regional site is augmented with short-term monitoring projects, said Earle Plain, air quality meteorologist.

He could not comment on how accurate the clean air society’s instruments are but did say it’s going to provide some sort of indication of what’s going on at different times of the year and day.

Mehta said the new sensors, installed this month, are aimed at education and that the air shed is something people can individually affect positively and negatively. The hope is by teaching people about its vulnerability and variability people will engage in cleaner practices, like thinking twice about burning backyard waste.

The society also plans to use the air quality monitoring tool as part of its mission to work with local government and others to introduce stronger and more consistent bylaws and regulations to protect human health.

The data from the air monitors can be seen at goo.gl/7LNFww. For more information about the monitoring system, please e-mail Gabriolacleanair@gmail.com.