Healthy Living in the North

Clean Air Day 2014

clouds, sky, sunny day

Celebrate Clean Air All Year Long

This year, we celebrate Clean Air Day on Wednesday, June 4. Clean Air Day is a great opportunity to reflect on our individual, community and regional contributions to air quality, and to consider all that we can do to reduce our impact – individually and collectively. Despite the image of British Columbia as a vast, wild and natural place, we celebrate our clean air only one day a year.

Perhaps we take for granted that we can breathe easy, especially in the north with our wide open spaces and vast oxygen-producing forests. However, clean air is not something to take for granted. In fact, breathing is anything but easy for thousands of British Columbians. Poor air quality can worsen a pre-existing health issue such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or a heart condition. This means that those who are already at-risk are those who will be most affected. Did you know that asthma is the cause of the highest number of emergency visits in children?

Each region has unique features that affect local air quality.  The impact is specifically dependent on local weather patterns, geography, and types of emissions. For example, a windier location will have fewer air quality issues than one that experiences less air movement. However, some types of pollution are harmful even at low levels (specifically one called “particulate matter 2.5”). This type of pollution comes from sources such as vehicle emissions, wood-burning appliances, and burning fossil fuels.

So many of our everyday activities contribute to this problem, but the good news is that everyone has a role to play in the solution – both as individuals and collectively. For example, if we use wood heat, burning only dry, seasoned firewood can dramatically reduce the pollution from our homes. We can also reduce vehicle emissions by walking, cycling or using public transit. Small changes can have a huge impact on our local air quality – especially at certain times of the year!

For more information, visit

Kim Menounos

About Kim Menounos

Kim is a healthy community environments lead, in public health protection, responsible for education and awareness of radon gas. She joined Northern Health in January 2011, and still feels like a newbie! Kim is a slow, but enthusiastic trail runner, and happiest when outdoors with her boys (husband, children AND dog). (Kim no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


Small actions, big change (and a chance to win a bike!)

using a moisture meter

Barb’s son learning to use a moisture meter to check the moisture in firewood.

Small actions can lead to large change… that’s what I’ve learned since working in air quality. We all know that industry has a big role to play when it comes to cleaning up our air, but I think we often forget how important the individual’s role (yes, that means you and me) is as well. The impacts of wood burning, vehicle emissions and road dust in most northern airsheds are a lot bigger than most people expect (just look at the pie chart for Prince George).  It’s easiest to point the finger at the stacks, right? I get it! I know how tempting it is to drive through the Timmy’s drive-through on the way to work on a cold morning and I secretly cringed inside too when we talk about gathering winter firewood in the spring so that it can season for the summer (WHAT?… you want me to think about winter right now?).

Until working for the different airshed roundtables in our region, I never realized how important these individual decisions and actions can be for the overall betterment of our air. Every time we choose to car pool, bike, walk or stop idling; every time we teach our kids about the importance of preserving the natural environment; every time we ensure that we are not burning wet wood in old wood stoves; every time we minimize road dust by avoiding gravelled shoulders in the spring…. EVERY time we make these small decisions, we are helping to make our airshed cleaner. Without these individual decisions, our air quality concerns are not going to go away, no matter what industry does.

Prince George airshed

Impacts of wood burning, vehicle emissions and road dust in Prince George.lean

Given what I’ve learned, my family and I have taken steps to help improve our air. We carpool as much as possible, we try to plan our “running around” trips to minimize commuting time, we try to bike and walk when possible, we try to teach our kids the joys of being active and connected to our environment, we use a moisture meter to test the moisture content in the wood we burn, we use an EPA certified wood stove to heat our home and we don’t idle. We’re not perfect by any means, but we try to follow the advice I’ve heard tossed around at community airshed management discussions:  “reasonable people doing reasonable things.”  I think that is something that everyone can do… even you!

And now to get to the exciting part: how can this lead to winning a $1000 bike? To promote individual action and awareness, one community roundtable in our region, PGAIR, has put on two contests as part of Clean Air day, June 5 (unfortunately entries are limited to residents of Prince George).  The first contest is a poster contest for elementary school-aged kids. It is meant to get kids thinking about our air quality and individual actions that can be taken. The second contest will recognize a Clean Air Champion in the Prince George community: someone that has taken it upon themselves to take steps (be it small or large) to improve our airshed. The chosen Clean Air Champion will receive a $1000 bike!!! Visit PGAIR’s Clean Air day page for more information.

If you’re in Prince George, make sure to check out the contest details and nominate someone you know! For those outside of Prince George (and those in Prince George as well), let’s start to think about air quality in our everyday lives. You never know what contests might pop up… and in the meantime, you can are helping to make some real improvements in the air we breathe!

Barb Oke

About Barb Oke

Barb is a healthy community environments lead for Northern Health. Her passion is her family, and most of what she does to stay active and healthy centers around activities such as biking, hiking, walking, skiing, swimming and boating, where the whole family can be involved.