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Houston in red zone of air quality standards

Houston first municipality in Canada to implement removal of wood-stoves bylaw
Natalie Suzuki presents on behalf of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of B.C. to the District of Houston council. (Ann Marie Hak photo)

At the District of Houston council meeting on Dec. 19, 2017 the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Climate Change presented and overview of the air quality standards, indicating that Houston exceeds national particulate matter air pollutant standards, as well as initiatives the community can take to reduce this amount.

Houston is a part of the Central North Interior zone which includes communities as far south as 100 Mile House, as far north as far north as Stuart, as far east as Prince George, and as far west as Kitwanga.

Houston and four other communities including Quesnel, Prince George, and Vanderhoof exceed daily air zone management levels, which is acceptable at around 28 percentile. Even after eliminating particles associated with the fires this summer, Houston still exceeds this measurement by one percentile.

Houston currently participates in a some air quality activities including open burning restrictions on small lots within District of Houston limits, restrictions on wood burning appliances, and has a wood stove exchange program.

In the new year, the Houston Airshed Management Society is working on bringing in a “burn smart” workshop for Houston residents to participate in and become better educate on managing the air quality in the community.

“Red status means that Houston is a high ministry priority for technical support and strategic funding to confirm what we know about local air quality and major sources, identify other factors affecting local air quality, determine what can be done in short term and over time to reduce air pollutant particulate matter,” said Natalie Suzuki, from MOE.

Above the Houston Volunteer Department Fire hall are the instruments that measure the air quality for Houston.

Counsellor Rick Lundrigan asked, “Is there any way to identify what are the specific particulates are and where they are coming from so that we can work towards a solution?”

Ben Weinstein, also from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of B.C., said “In Houston, we don’t have that technology on the fire hall, but from my experience it would be a challenge to determine that in a place like Houston, because some of it comes from one form of wood burning or another, the kind of sample results you would get back would say, wood. But it would be a challenge to say exactly what source of wood burning that is.”

Counsellor Tim Anderson asked, “Do you have success stories from other communities that have improved their air quality?”

Suzuki said, “Our recent success has been in the Cowichan valley where their particulate levels were a concern in that time and affecting people’s health. They have been working on an inertia strategy for a couple of a years that they have now finalized.”

Counsellor Jonathan Van Barneveld asked, “Houston was always on a decline trend in air quality, it was getting better, with this new data here, are we still declining but just not meeting the standard?”

Weinstein said that in the past few years the instruments used to measure the air quality has changed, therefore creating more accurate data.

“As a result, even after seeing improvement, we have a number of communities that were doing good but all of a sudden with the new instrument implementation, are now not exceeding standards. We just haven’t been monitoring accurately enough, because the technology just wasn’t there at the time,” said Weinstein.

Counsellor Lundrigan asked, “Is enforcement up to each individual community?”

Glen Okrainetz, also from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of B.C., added, “If it is a provincial regulation it is up to the ministry, but at the local government level you have more authority in terms of actually making changes.”

According to Weinstein, in 2006 Houston was the first municipality in Canada to implement a mandatory removal of wood-stoves that didn’t meet emission certifications, the target date was 2010.

Counsellor John Siebenga said, “We have found that even with the bylaw, there are lots of stoves still burning, so in comes the wood-stove exchange program, and I find that $250 [towards changing out a wood-stove] does not go very far to encourage people to remove their woodstoves.”

Orakinetz said that there is higher incentive given if people switch to natural gas or electricity because they are cleaner fuels.

Suzuki said that the low incentive is something that they have heard from other communities as well, and are talking under advisement.

Counsellor Lundrigan asked where does the province standard on air quality versus the carbon footprint of natural gas.

Orakinetz said, “Years ago my colleague who was the director for the climate change program, and I myself for the air qualtiy program agreed, that local air quality and human health trump carbon emissions.”