Air quality has made international headlines recently due to an emergency situation in Delhi, India. Their fine particulate matter levels soared well above safe limits. These particles are so small they can enter deep into the lungs and cause a wide range of health problems – especially in children and people with compromised respiratory systems. Schools were shut down and people were urged to limit outdoor activity. Other mitigation measures such as limiting vehicle traffic and halting industrial operations were put into place to combat these extreme conditions.
Air quality: a local concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has a world map that shows us how Canada compares to the rest of the world. Compared to places like India, we are very fortunate to have very clean air here in northern B.C. Yet we are not immune to poor air quality days! The Central Interior Air Zone Report (2011-2013) and the BC Lung Association 2016 State of the Air Report show us that many of our northern communities exceed provincial or federal air quality standards.
Air quality in the winter
What’s more, air quality can be even more severely impacted in the winter. Our air quality meteorologists tell us that air movement slows or stagnates when it cools down and thus lowers into our valley regions. Particulate matter accumulates in this stagnant air and levels can rise above what is considered safe.
There are many sources of particulate matter including, but not limited to, road dust, vehicle emissions, and smoke from fires. Smoke generated from residential wood heating spikes during these cooler, more stagnant air, days.
Kids & clean air
Breathing cleaner air has benefits for all of us, but children are especially susceptible to the health effects of air pollution. Their bodies are still growing and their lungs are developing. Children also have greater exposure to air pollution because they breathe in more air per kilogram of body weight and they spend more time being active outdoors. Children with asthma or other respiratory conditions are more likely to be affected. Air pollution can trigger asthma attacks and cause respiratory symptoms like coughing and throat irritation, even in healthy children.
Protecting our families, friends, and neighbours
This winter season, I want to remind us all to reduce our contributions to the smoke in our air. There are alternatives to burning wood for heat and if we must burn wood, let’s educate ourselves on how to burn more cleanly and efficiently. This will protect our families and neighbours from harmful pollutants.
If you burn with wood, here are some quick tips:
- Split, stack, cover, and store wood for 6 months prior to use.
- Use a moisture meter to check that wood has a moisture content of 20% or less.
- Use an efficient CSA or EPA certified wood stove.
- Don’t burn garbage or treated woods.
- Don’t burn during an air quality advisory.
- Maintain your chimney and wood burning appliance so it burns clean and is safe.
Even small reductions in smoke and particulate matter can have a large health impact!
Share your clean air tips and stories
How do you or your family reduce smoke or particulate matter during the cooler winter months? We want to read and share your stories about efficient or clean burning practices, alternatives to burning, and other strategies we can all use to minimize the smoke or particulate matter in our air.
Share your stories and tips with us this season for your chance to win a great prize! You’ll also have the chance to tell us why clean air matters to you!
About Paula Tait
Paula works in Prince George as a Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, working collaboratively to assess and minimize health impacts related to industrial development. Born and raised in Terrace, she completed her schooling in Edmonton, and started her environmental health career in southeast Saskatchewan in 2005. She has been back in northern B.C. since 2010. Paula enjoys being creative, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.