Dirty air prompts plan

Higher-than-acceptable levels of airborne particulate matter in the Red Deer Region triggered a response plan to fix the problem.

Higher-than-acceptable levels of airborne particulate matter in the Red Deer Region triggered a response plan to fix the problem.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is required under provincial law to come up with a way to reduce levels after a 2009-2011 assessment showed fine particulate levels above the “exceedance trigger” of the Clean Air Strategic Alliance and the Ozone Management Framework.

One of the first jobs will be to determine where the particulates are coming from and why they exceeded limits. Fine particulate matter can be liquid or solid microscopic particles suspended in the atmosphere and measured in micrometres per square metre.

It is typically visible as a haze hanging over urban areas.

When levels are too high, particulates can aggravate existing heart or respiratory conditions, and allow toxic compounds to make their way into bloodstreams.

Typical sources are industry and vehicle emissions, or natural events, such as forest fires.

Monitoring stations in Red Deer’s Riverside and Lancaster areas recorded levels above allowable limits many times between 2009 and 2011.

For instance, in January 2010, limits were exceeded 25 times — the highest number recorded from 2007 to 2014. March 2011 was another bad month with 23 days over the limit based on an average taken throughout the day.

The situation seems to be improving. By comparison, in 2014 the worst month was February, with limits exceeded four times.

The biggest spikes were blamed on vehicle and industry pollution exacerbated by calm conditions and temperature inversions that kept particulates at ground level. Improved monitoring equipment added in 2009 was also a factor in the higher number of incidents logged.

Red Deer County council agreed on Tuesday to support the Red Deer Region Particulate Matter Response Plan by remaining active on an advisory committee comprised of industry, provincial, monitoring and municipal representatives.

Coun. Jean Bota was among several councillors who said the work being done is important and the county should be involved in the committee that meets monthly.

Mayor Jim Wood agreed. “We want to make sure the health of all residents is as best as it can be.”

Andrew Treu, county environmental services manager, said Red Deer Region is the second to undertake a mandatory response plan to deal with particulate levels above allowable limits.

The Capital Region around Edmonton released its plan last year. Red Deer Region’s draft plan is expected to be released in September for public input.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com