When Houston councillors looked at a map of local air pollution last week, the most damaging stuff—fine particulate matter—was marked in red.
What may surprise many residents is that since local sawmills quit using beehive burners, the map now shows Houston’s industrial area as mostly green.
“The interesting thing with Houston is that the industrial area doesn’t really contribute to air pollution, in terms of PM 2.5,” said Councillor Jonathan Van Barneveld, referring to the size of particulate matter most likely to collect in people’s lungs.
“It’s primarily in the downtown core, from wood stoves,” he said.
Specifically, the map shows the greatest density of air pollution coming from the Ambassador mobile home park south of 11th Street.
“It’s the thickest area in town, and unfortunately we have seniors’ housing right there,” said Councillor Shane Briennen.
Some residents in the seniors housing across from the Ambassador say the aren’t bothered by the woodsmoke.
But fellow resident Bill Arkinstall says that’s likely because if you’ve lived in Houston for a while, especially before the beehive burners shut down, you got used to it.
“My wife really notices it,” he said. “She has asthma, and it does create a problem for her.”
Since 2009, the District of Houston has offered a $300 rebate to local residents who swap out older woodstoves for newer models that emit far less particulate matter. But so far, the Bulkley Valley’s airshed society says just two stoves have been swapped out in the Ambassador park.
Arkinstall says he can understand that residents may be turned off by the upfront cost of an upgrade.
As well as the stove itself, new installations have to meet the current fire code and that often triggers other expenses, such as new stove pipe.
“I understand their position,” Arkinstall said. “But’s it’s not a healthy situation here.”
At a recent meeting, the Bulkley Valley airshed society noted that Houston and other small towns have passed bylaws to regulate woodstoves, but they often don’t have enough funding to enforce them.
Across the province, B.C.’s environment ministry says that at current levels, PM 2.5 poses a greater health risk than smog or carbon dioxide.
Residential wood burning makes up 15 per cent of B.C.’s PM 2.5 emissions.
Another 26 per cent is emitted by industry, while the majority, 31 per cent, comes from prescribed burns.