Red Deer air quality called into question

Red Deer citizens can no longer count on having clean air every day.

Red Deer citizens can no longer count on having clean air every day.

Air quality in the Red Deer area was found in need of improvement, according to an assessment conducted by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Measurements taken at a Riverside Drive Air Monitoring Station were higher than acceptable Canada-wide standards on airborne particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.

This happened during a higher-than-normal frequency of stagnant air episodes in the winters of 2010 and 2011.

Although the found air pollutants are less than one-60th the diameter of a human hair, city residents should be “somewhat concerned,” said Kevin Warren, executive director of the Parkland Air Management Zone (PAMZ), which operates the monitoring station.

“The fine particulate matter gets into people’s lungs and has health affects,” added Warren, who believes those with lung ailments are particularly susceptible to winter smog.

Particulate matter isn’t just dust, but could include liquid droplets that can remain in aerosol form or turn into a gas. The pollutants could contain diesel, said Warren, who blames the poor air episodes on emissions from motor vehicles and industry, combined with air inversion systems that keep pollutants at ground level.

Although no studies have been done on the composition of the fine particulate matter, he believes a study is warranted.

Besides the particulate matter, PAMZ is keeping a watch on local ozone, which was found to be at “surveillance action levels.”

These levels turned up after improved monitoring technology was installed in 2009, resulting in higher but more accurate findings.

As a result, Alberta Environment is developing a plan to reduce concentrations of particulate matter in the area. Warren said letters are going out to area industries and municipalities, seeking their help in bringing down levels of the air pollutant. PAMZ will also participate in the development of a reduction plan.

Warren said the City of Red Deer already has a proactive no-idling policy for city vehicles. Stakeholders will have to put their heads together to see what else can be done.

In the meantime, he urges those with health concerns to monitor the PAMZ website (www.pamz.org), which contains a health index that reveals when inversion conditions are happening. This should prompt those with lung problems to avoid outdoor activities.

So far, weather inversions have happened twice this month, on Feb. 6 and 7.

Warren said Red Deer isn’t the only city with particulate problems. Winter smog routinely crops up in Edmonton and other centres.

PAMZ is also running a temporary air quality monitor in the Lancaster reservoir to determine whether it’s suitable as a second permanent monitoring site.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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