Smoke from an industrial slash burn Sept.22, 2016. Shifting wind pushed the smoke over Smithers. (Chris Gareau photo)

Keeping track of Bulkley Valley air pollution

The emissions inventory hasn’t been updated since 2005.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment has given the Bulkley Valley Lakes District (BVLD) Airshed Management Society $20,000 that will go towards updating the emission’s inventory for their plan area, which is from Endako to Kitwanga, of air pollution sources.

An emission inventory is a list of total emissions for one or more greenhouse gases or air pollutants, from all source categories in a certain geographical area and within a specified time span, which is usually a year.

Smithers council’s liaison with the BV Airshed Management Society Coun. Greg Brown wrote to the Province this spring to get the funding to update the inventory.

“Having the inventory is a necessary first step in order to have a better conversation about what are the sources [of pollution] and how much pollution is coming from each of the different sources,” said Brown. “It is complicated and people get passionate so this is one way to bring a bit more reasoned approach to it.”

The ministry initially approved funding the update but thanks to the provincial election and change in the ruling party, funding was delayed until the fall and as result the inventory is currently two months behind schedule.

The first phase of the update, a scoping study, was completed in September thanks to funding from the Town of Smithers and the Bulkey Valley Social Planning Society. A scoping study is a preliminary study that identifies the nature of the work that needs to be done for a project and gives an estimate of how long it will take to complete.

The airshed management society outsourced handling of the administrative tasks for the project to the Bulkey Valley Research Centre.

“As a society we’re a small group. We have no employees, no office, no phone number. We exist on paper and 11 people who get together from time to time for meetings,” said BVLD Airshed Management society president Dave Stevens. “[No one in the group has a background] in research administration … however, the BV Research Centre does and they do it all the time.”

The inventory hasn’t been updated since 2005.

“If you look at the existing inventory it talks about sources that are no longer there and it misses sources that have come around since then,” said Stevens.

With the new influx of funding they have enough money to pay for the next phase of the update, which consists of identifying sources of pollution, where it comes from, what time of year is it most prevalent and what kind of pollution it is.

The inventory will focus on atmospheric particulate matter, which are microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in Earth’s atmosphere, because they have the most severe impact on human health. Particulate come in many different sizes but the 2.5-millimeter edition is the one of most concern as it’s small enough to go into the lungs and onto the bloodstream. This leads to blood clotting and the inflammation of blood vessels which makes it one of the prime factors leading to heart attacks.

“When you get continuously exposed to these particulates it causes long-term ongoing inflammatory changes in various parts of the body which contribute to all sorts of disease,” said general practitioner in oncology Biz Bastian. “It’s much more far reaching then just the idea that, ‘oh if we breathe bad air it affects our lungs.’ “

Particulates of this size are primarily caused by the burning of wood.

“A vast majority of our pollution problems [in Smithers] are caused by the emissions from burning wood,” said Brown. “So slash burning, single sources, industrial sources, backyard burning, land clearing and the burning of wood to heat buildings or to heat homes.”

People living Smithers have an elevated risk of developing the diseases previously mentioned because of the high amount of particulates in the air, explained Bastian.

“It’s no different from [when] we say if you live with a smoker the second hand smoke is going to affect you,” said Bastian.

The next stage of updating the inventory is expected to be completed in March, after which will be an analysis of the study’s findings. That will be finished in June.

It will cost $45,000 to complete this project.

Currently, the airshed management society has $35,000 and are waiting on a response from Environment Canada for a grant of $13,000, which would pay for the final stage of the update.

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