Air quality issues silent but real

The results of the 2013 B.C. Lung Association report on air quality came as a surprise to some.

The results of the 2013 B.C. Lung Association report on air quality came as a surprise to some. Vanderhoof had the worst air quality – from the point of view of fine particulate matter – in the province?

Who would have guessed that?

It appears that pockets of poor air are the norm across north-central B.C. When a person thinks of the north, he or she thinks of clean air, clean water, and everything that goes with those two ideas.

A person doesn’t necessarily think of the corridor between Prince George and Prince Rupert as becoming more and more of an industrial, resource energy corridor.

What carefully planned and positioned cutblocks and visual quality remainders (reminders?) of what used to be thick forest on either side of the highway cannot hide is the fact that resource extraction throughout the region is showing no sign of slowing down.

If it were slowing down, we’d be looking at an economic slowdown as well. If the recent election results can be taken to mean anything at all, it is that the majority of residents up here don’t want that.

That doesn’t mean that the province has the social license to proceed with industrial development at all costs. Take three recent examples.

We saw that prior to the last election, when changes to the forest act were perceived to be moving along too hastily, the province had to back down and postpone the changes until further public consultation had taken place.

The province recently rejected the Northern Gateway proposal – at least as it stands for the moment – largely because it couldn’t possibly overlook the massive public resistance to the project.

The province also recently rejected the Morrison copper and gold mine proposed for the shore of Morrison Lake, north of Granisle. This was done at the last minute, and only following upon intense, non-governmental and grassroots efforts by a small northwest fisheries institute to raise the alarm over potential impacts to area salmon fisheries.

The province is obviously willing to respond to public concern over large-scale projects that carry with them all of the dramatic imagery that comes with oil spills, poisoned water, and barren forests.

What about our air quality? When the spring air was so thick with dust that we could chew it, everybody noticed. Now that the dust has settled or blown away, we can move about under the illusion that everything is fine.

But is it? The fine particulate matter that the B.C. Lung Association report talks about is not something that you necessarily smell or taste, but it does lace the air and works it way deep inside your lungs, especially as you’re breathing heavy while hiking, mountain biking, or paddling open waters.

Certainly, we can’t shut down industry, and nobody is calling for that. But where chronic offenders are discovered, the message has to be sent that air quality is more important than profit.

It’s too bad that poor air quality doesn’t carry with it strong visuals. We can see a huge clearcut, and we notice when salmon don’t spawn. But what visuals go with air that could be slowly poisoning us?