Particulate matter article timely, measures needed in Alberta cities

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Kevin Ma’s study of localized concentrations of particles in St. Albert air, as outlined in the St. Albert Gazette, August 17 2016, entitled, "Tiny bits of doom" is very timely. There is growing realization that the province’s monitoring units which provide us with the Air Quality Health Index are too far away from the very localized sources of urban pollution to accurately assess pollution situations. With several Canadian cities and a number of U.S. libraries loaning these modestly-priced units, urban air pollution monitoring is being re-invented and hopefully this will lead to measures to significantly improve urban air quality.

Measures are definitely needed in Alberta’s cities which are almost unique, in an environmentally-conscious world, in not having a single effective clean air initiative.

Some of the findings to date are just confirming what common sense indicates; anyone living on a busy street is being exposed to particles and carbon monoxide at levels three times that at a monitoring unit. The situation is worse along truck routes with oxides of nitrogen an additional concern. The most dangerous source of tiny particles is having a wood-burning fireplace in your home or a wood burning neighbour. The particles from a neighbour’s wood burning fireplace, stove, fire pit, smoker or chiminea are so small that closing windows will not keep them out or the carcinogenic vapours produced by wood burning such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and benzene.

Twenty-five years ago I represented St. Albert as a member of a provincial task force gathering concerns and looking for solutions to urban pollution. We simply borrowed ideas from cites in the U.S. and around the world that care for resident’s health. A basic program, we suggested, would include emission testing of automobiles as in so many U.S. states and Europe. Filters on commercial diesel exhausts as in Britain and a ban on any further installation of wood burning appliances as in Golden B.C., a ban on wood burning fire pits as in Toronto and following the lead of Vancouver and Montreal planning to ban wood burning by 2020.

Unfortunately we were too late and the green movement had taken the province by storm and the schools are still promoting green ideas even though there is no record of green measures reducing urban air pollution. Hopefully with pocket monitors urban residents will have a clearer picture of the threat to their health and will support effective measures to improve air quality.

Alan Smith, a director of the Canadian Clean Air Alliance, Red Deer

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