Voicing concerns about local air quality

Air quality in Houston is closely monitored by the Ministry of Environment, and typically declines during the fall.

Concerns about air quality floated around town last week Tuesday, as smoke tinted with the smell of burning plastic filtered through the streets.

But Greg Tamblyn, Head of Environmental Quality Section of the Ministry of Environment, says air quality readings were fairly typical for this time of year.

“Generally at this time of year in the fall, air quality does decline,” he said.

He says the reason for the decline is a combination of weather, cooler days, causing people to use their wood stoves, and open burning of logging and land clearing debris.

Tamblyn says they did not get any complaints about air quality in the Houston area last week.

The Ministry of Environment monitors air quality by measuring particulate matter (the amount of solid or liquid particles in the air).

They have two readings: PM 10 measures particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter, and PM 2.5 measures particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Tamblyn says PM 2.5 reads smoke particles in the air, while PM 10 gets readings on smoke and dust.

Last Tuesday, the PM 10 reading ranged from 2.3 to 29.7 micrograms per cubic metre, a fair distance from the 50 micrograms per cubic metre that prompts a public advisory, Tamblyn said.

The equipment that does the PM 2.5 reading was down last Tuesday, so Tamblyn says they had a staff person in the area and they were watching an alternate piece of equipment for concerns.

Asked about the plastic smell, Tamblyn says their equipment cannot pick up such readings.

“We don’t have equipment that monitors anything other than particulate matter. These machines measure dust and smoke, which is by far the most significant air quality concern in the Houston area,” he said.

Tamblyn says the Ministry is part of the Bulkley Valley – Lakes District Airshed Management Society, and has a Clean Air Plan, completed in 2012.

They’ve been focusing on exchanging old, inefficient wood stoves to new, EPA certified stoves, and working with the forestry industry to manage smoke from log debris burning.

This fall, their projects include meeting with the agricultural community to discuss burning of land clearing debris, and meeting with community staff to discuss the success of wood stove bylaws.

If people have air quality concerns within the municipal boundary, they can report it to the District of Houston office.

Concerns outside of the town boundary can be reported to the Report All Polluters and Poachers (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277.

For information and real time readings of air quality, go to www.bcairquality.ca