Airshed society wants clarity on emissions

The society, currently in its tenth year of operation, held an open house Feb. 27 in Burns Lake.

Community outreach and completion of a new Micro-Emissions Inventory (MEI) for the region are high on this year’s list of priorities for the Bulkley Valley – Lakes District Airshed Management Society.

The society, currently in its tenth year of operation, held an open house Feb. 27 in Burns Lake. Members of the society’s board of directors, along with coordinator Susan Brookes, were on hand to explain the organization’s activities and plans.

Brookes noted that the organization updated its airshed management plan in June 2012. The document, entitled A Community Action Plan for Cleaner Air, sets out a strategy for improving air quality in the corridor between Kitwanga and Endako.

Developed with input from a wide variety of stakeholders, the plan primarily targets a pollutant known as “Particulate Matter” (PM) – fine particles of dust, carbon, and other materials suspended in the air.

Brookes said meetings such as the one held in Burns Lake are crucial to increasing public awareness of air quality issues and the actions individuals can take to reduce air pollution. She noted that in some instances, people can dramatically improve the quality of the air they breathe by modifying their own behaviours.

“Sometimes it’s something as simple as a lifestyle change,” she noted. “For example, when you heat with wood, crack the stove, let it draw, and then open it up. But how many times have I myself opened the door to the stove, and ‘poof’, out comes the smoke? Meanwhile, the little girl who’s upstairs sleeping is breathing it in. Unfortunately, people don’t always see it when they’re immersed in it.”

While outreach is critical to improving local air quality, it’s equally important that the society understand the amount of emissions in the region and their sources. To this end, it hopes to update the airshed’s current Micro-Emissions Inventory.

“The other objective we have for this year, although we haven’t got the funding for it yet, is to undertake a Micro-Emissions Inventory,” Brookes explained. “The one we have was released (in the mid-2000’s), but a lot of the data used to complete it was older than that. Some of it was based on data captured in 2002, so it’s at least 10 years out of date… We feel we really need it to understand the science behind the emissions.”

Dave Stevens, president of the airshed management society, agree. A founding member of the organization, he feels that completion of a new MEI is crucial to the society’s work.

“Over the past decade, the beehive burners in the Bulkley Valley have gone,” Stevens noted. “Those sources (of air pollution) have disappeared, but new sources have come on stream. Pinnacle (Pellet) operates out here at Sheraton and in conjunction with Canfor in Houston. Now, I’m not finger-pointing, I’m just pointing out that the nature of emitting industries changed over that period of time. What the airshed society wants to do is gain some clarity by performing an emissions inventory for the plan area. One was done in 2006 and it’s out of date. We need to re-do it, and if you happen to have a spare $30,000, we’ll hire somebody and we’ll do it.”

While the society isn’t short of enthusiasm, funding of the magnitude required to update the MEI is more difficult to come by. The organization was fortunate to receive a grant from the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition to complete outreach and related works, but what it really needs is a long-term source of funding.

“In terms of money, I would say we need anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000 annually,” said Brookes. “That’s kind of the minimum. It would cover the salary of a part-time coordinator who does member outreach as well as outreach into different communities. And the airshed is vast, 35,000 square kilometers, so that would cover some travel. We really want to reach remote First Nations’ village and reservations, because they’re all heating with wood and really suffering from the cumulative effects of wood smoke.”

“I’ve got a four-year-old grandson with asthma, and I think it’s a crime against humanity,” noted Stevens. “If you want to know my motivation, there you go. It’s good enough.”