‘When you have access to an electron microscope, you try to think of all the cool things you could look at,” said Dr. Mike Kraft of the University of Western Washington, who took a very close look at the pollution from B.C. wildfires. Courtesy UWW

VIDEO: A close look at what you were breathing during the B.C. wildfire season

Electron microscope images show soot and tar particles generated by worst B.C. fire season

A high-powered microscope in a U.S. university has provided a disturbing close-up look at the pollution from the worst wildfire season in B.C. history.

During the height of the forest fire season, when hundreds of blazes were sending thick clouds of smoke rolling across the province, a researcher at the University of Western Washington in Bellingham decided to take a closer look at the particles people were breathing in.

In August, when the pollution from the burning B.C. forests drifted into Washington state, Dr. Mike Kraft, a research associate at Western Washington University (WWU), collected some samples and ran them through the university’s new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).

At the time, there were advisories on both sides of the border for people with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease, as well as infants and the elderly, who were advised to avoid strenuous exercise or spending long periods of time outside until the smoke lifted.

Air in Whatcom County was rated “hazardous” for particulates.

Metro Vancouver air quality was rated worse than Los Angels and Beijing.

It wasn’t hard to gather samples, Kraft said.

He simply stood outside with a a filter.

Magnified many thousands of times, the electron microscope images reveal dark, dirty and jagged contaminants, too small to be seen to by the naked eye, covered in tar and soot and easily inhaled.

“When you have access to an electron microscope, you try to think of all the cool things you could look at,” Kraft said.

“I thought there would be broad interest in seeing what makes up the smoke that has been a universal experience in this region. It is good for people to understand what is in the world around them.”

Kraft said the reaction to the images has been really positive, “even if people find what we had been breathing pretty disturbing.”

READ MORE: 2018 now B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record

READ MORE: Trapped indoors: smoke from wildfires especially hard on Langley man with respiratory problems

The images were collected as grayscale but were colourized after the fact, to highlight the particles, Kraft said.

“For reference, the particles are about the size of bacteria or smaller, and roughly 20-100 times smaller than the width of a human hair.”

While there were also forest fires burning in Washington state, near coastal areas like Bellingham, it is believed the majority of the smoke was coming from B.C.

“The particles I looked at are common to wildfires, as best I can tell, and they should be representative of the smoke in B.C.,” Kraft said, though it is possible the particles were larger nearer the source.

”I suspect they are fairly similar. “



dan.ferguson@langleytimes.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

30,000 times magnification of 1 micron soot particle. Courtesy UWW

Soot and small, jagged pieces woody debris from wildfire smoke, magnified 15,000 times. Courtesy Western Washington University

25,000 times magnification of a 2 micron soot particle “coated with tar-like goo” Courtesy UWW

80,000 times magnification of 100 nanometer-wide soot particle. Courtesy UWW

Just Posted

Former Burns Lake mayor gets two years for sexual assaults against minors

Banned from taking work involving young people for five years

Prince Rupert man who killed foster parents in 2017 receives three-year sentence

A Prince Rupert man convicted in the deaths of his foster parents… Continue reading

Houston looking festive

Many Houston residents have gone all out and decorated their homes. (Angelique… Continue reading

Houston seniors luncheon

It was a full house at the Houston Senior Centre as the… Continue reading

Houston lacks homes to attract new professionals: study

Preliminary findings of UNBC study released

VIDEO: Rockslide closes Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Province gives $4.93M boost to school-based gang prevention program

The funding will see the ‘Erase’ program expand from 12 to 16 communities

Half of shoppers say they have no holiday spending budget

B.C. consumers surveyed estimate they will spend $921 this season

Man killed in crash due to ‘absolutely treacherous’ conditions on Coquihalla

Winter means icy roads are dangerous and drivers should be careful, RCMP say

Bag of cocaine left in B.C. grocery store aisle

RCMP: ‘We sure would like to talk to’ person who left drugs behind

RCMP officer was justified using hose in rooftop standoff: B.C. watchdog

Police watchdog finds officers actions reasonable when man injured in 2018 incident

Cannabis ice cream? Province prepares for B.C. Bud edibles

Mike Farnworth’s special police unit takes down dispensaries

Union for parole officers at B.C. halfway house says public safety at risk

Increase in parole officers’ workload dealing with highest-risk offenders raises concern

B.C. bans logging in sensitive Silverdaisy area in Skagit River Valley

Minister says no more timber licences will be awarded for the area, also known as the ‘doughnut hole’

Most Read