A recent report from the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy confirms what most people in Courtenay already know: that the city’s air quality is not up to par with the rest of the province.
The report, titled “Patterns of Air Quality and Meteorology in Courtenay,” is one of the latest of several studies devoted to examining the Comox Valley’s air quality. Released in early November and written by air quality meteorologist Earle Plain, the study analyzes patterns in ambient air quality in Courtenay and how it is affected by meteorological conditions.
Measurements were collected between 2011 and the end of 2016 from an air quality monitoring station located by Courtenay Elementary School.
The report confirms that the mean annual and daily levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are higher in Courtenay than the B.C. average and exceed provincial objectives. The levels of PM2.5 are particularly high from November to February, according to Plain.
“It just confirms a lot of the things that have been coming out over the last few years and is another piece of information that local decision makers can use,” he said.
The report also found that air quality is at its worst in the evenings and at night.
An emissions inventory for the Comox Valley was completed in March this year to identify the sources of fine particulates. The inventory found that 35.5 per cent of PM2.5 came from residential wood stoves and 45.4 per cent came from open burning. Eighty per cent of PM2.5 in the opening burning category came hazard abatement practices within the forestry sector.
The study’s findings were not surprising to Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley (BCACV), a group of volunteers that advocates for air quality education and lobbies local governments regarding the issue.
“This study adds even more information and ammunition to [the fact that] we have a serious problem and we have to take action. Let’s stop studying it and start acting,” said Jennell Ellis, a volunteer with BCACV.
“We need political leaders that will acknowledge that we do have a problem and do something about it. There are lots of possibilities.”
The Comox Valley Regional District participates in a provincial wood stove exchange program that provides rebates to people who exchange their wood-burning appliances for cleaner heating options.
Other than that program, open-air burning is either regulated or banned within municipal limits. Open burning has been banned in Courtenay since 2008, according to the city’s website.
The CVRD added extra incentives to the wood stove exchange program this year, as part of a three-year air quality education program. People who exchange their wood stoves for electric heat pumps or natural gas appliances can receive larger rebates than if they were to simply upgrade to a newer wood stove.
But despite the program’s expansion, Ellis says the rebate program is just “a drop in the bucket” when it comes to improving the Comox Valley’s air quality.
“This year, it has been great to see that there are rebates for heat pumps for the first time and rebates for gas,” she said. “That’s a move in the right direction. But for the number of wood stoves we have in the community, that rebate program would take decades and decades to make any meaningful difference.”
Ellis also mentioned that even though forestry-related open burning accounts for more fine particulate matter than smoke from wood stoves, it mainly occurs outside municipal boundaries and is fairly regulated compared to residential heating.
Alongside PM2.5 levels, Plain’s report also measured the concentrations of ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide in Courtenay from 2011–2016. Plain wrote that those gases were not at concerning levels.