There is a certain irony in that, three days into a dust advisory in city, the Prince George Air Improvement Roundtable (PGAIR) released a report stating air quality is improving.
The comparison, of course, isn’t applicable as the PGAIR final report on Phase 3 of its Air Quality Management Plan, looks at air quality over the long haul.
The report finds that progress toward community air quality goals set by PGAIR in 2011 has been steady and measurable. Levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny particles in the air posing a risk to human health – declined 40 per cent from industrial sources from 2011-2016 and a downward trend in average concentrations community-wide is seen, which supports long-term targets, according to the report.
PGAIR Executive Director Terry Robert said significant reductions in levels of fine particulate matter were achieved through technological improvements in industries with provincial permits in the northeast sector and through dust management strategies in the City of Prince George and Fraser Fort George Regional District.
“The results of the Phase 3 report are encouraging and it’s good to see leadership on air quality emerge in many sectors,” said Robert. “Still, we know more is needed to meet community targets, especially given the additional impacts of wildfire smoke we’ve seen in recent years.”
Prince George was affected by wildfire smoke for several days or more during 2011 and 2014, and again in 2017, though this recent data is not included in the analysis.
“Every sign points to increased wildfire activity in the face of a changing climate, and it is likely that many more smoky days will plague our airshed in the years to come,” reads the report. “The result is that air quality targets may be difficult to meet, and should therefore incorporate allowances for exceedances due to weather, wildfire or any other external sources beyond our management control.”
Much remains to be done, however, including a review of mitigation strategies for unmanageable sources of pollutants, such as wildfire smoke, and further reductions in residential, commercial and transportation emissions.
“The City of Prince George is pleased with the significant progress made by PGAIR to improve air quality in Prince George,” said Mayor Lyn Hall. “The city has worked diligently to improve our airshed and achieve the goals of PGAIR through initiatives and activities such as the Clean Air Bylaw and our sweeping operations, which are currently underway 24-hours a day. While council highly commends the ongoing work of the roundtable, we realize that this work is not yet complete, and we will continue to work to achieve all of council’s environmental goals. As residents, we all play a part in bettering air quality and I encourage citizens to consider ways we can all work to improve the air we breathe.”
According to the report, road dust and permitted users are the single largest contributors to fine particulates in the air, each accounting for 18 per cent of the overall level. Other large contributors are: commercial restaurants – 11 per cent; locomotive exhaust – 11 per cent; secondary sources – nine per cent; and residential heating – seven per cent.
Adam Lancaster, Environment Manager for Canfor Pulp Ltd. and PGAIR member said Canfor Pulp is proud to be a large contributor in the march toward PGAIR’s Phase III goals.
“Through significant capital investment, we have proven that strengthening our position in the marketplace can work in parallel with improved environmental performance,” Lancaster said. “As our strongest gains in particulate discharge have been made, we encourage all sectors to continue with incremental reductions as we shift our focus to other air quality and environmental improvements.”
Overwhelming scientific evidence points to elevated rates of cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses or death linked to high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air we breathe.
“I’m pleased to see continued success resulting from the work of PGAIR and its partners. These improvements to air quality should be celebrated and will positively impact the health of everyone in our community,” said Dr. Andrew Gray, Northern Interior Medical Health Officer, Northern Health Authority.