It appears the city of Courtenay has been a victim of fake news.
A recent article that ran in The Guard- ian targeting Courtenay as having the worst air quality in Canada – and sec- ond-worst in all of North America – has proven to be false.
The article, Pant by numbers: the cities
with the most dangerous air – listed, was published in the UK-based news hub’s Feb. 13 online edition. It was picked up shortly afterward by some local media groups, including the Times Colonist.
Turns out, the data used by was in- correct.
“The WHO database incorrectly reports the annual average fine par- ticulate matter (PM2.5) concentration for Courtenay in 2013 as 17 μg m-3 (micrograms per cubic meter). In fact, the correct number for 2013 was 11.4 μg m-3,” explained a City of Courte- nay press release. “Environment and
Climate Change Canada has requested that the WHO rectify this error.”
“While Courtenay’s fine particulate matter concentrations for 2014 and 2015 were slightly higher than provin- cial objectives, they were lower than both Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standard (CAAQS) and WHO stan- dards.”
Mayor Larry Jangula, who was quoted in the Time Colonist article as saying it was “… a completely bogus study, in my mind,” was hammered on social media threads for denouncing the study.
He said he feels vindicated by these latest developments.
“I do,” he said. “I took a lot of heat on this, and am still taking a lot of heat on this. But I am very pleased, and I am very thankful to Don McRae and the ministry staff in Vic- toria who came to help us on this one.”
Jangula credited McRae with initiating the investigation into the WHO data. McRae was not available for comment.
Jangula said that he under- stands the air quality in Cour- tenay is not as high as people would like to see, but a lot of the air quality issues are not from anything happening with- in the city boundaries.
“I just had a lady leave my office a minute ago, who lives in Crown Isle,” he said in an interview Thursday. “She was complaining about the smoke in Crown Isle. That can’t be caused by anything we do in Courtenay, because most of the city of Courtenay is on nat- ural gas, or some other form of heat, and all of Crown Isle, there is no wood-burning al- lowed in Crown Isle.
“What got me in trouble, and I reiterate it now, I denied that we were the worst, or second-worst place in North America for wood smoke.” – MAYOR LARRY JANGULA
“So that’s why I have asked the ministry, before making sweeping statements about air quality in Courtenay, to have monitoring stations, at least one, in East Courtenay, and one in Comox. To brand the whole Valley with one moni- toring station…I’m not say- ing that wood stoves are not (a culprit) and I’m not saying that there are not areas of this city that do not have air quality issues at certain times. I would not say that. But what got me in trouble, and I reiterate it now, I denied that we were the worst, or second-worst place in North America for wood smoke.”
Jangula believes the majority of the air quality issues don’t come from wood-burning stoves. They come from the slash burning taking place in the rural areas.
“No question, to me… I think that is your problem. It’s not wood burning in the city of Courtenay. It’s all the slash burning done by the province and by the regional district… they burn for days and days when they get going.”
The Ministry of Environment maintains that wood smoke from wood stoves and outdoor open burning is a significant contributor to PM2.5 levels in several British Columbia com- munities, including the Comox Valley.
Open burning has been banned in the City of Courte- nay since 2008.
Jangula said Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan brought up the issue at the Associa- tion of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conven- tion last year, looking to get the province to ban slash burning around municipalities.
When asked whether the City of Courtenay would pursue a similar request to the province, Jangula said it has to be con- sidered.
“I think in light of this newest issue, yes, it’s something that we need to take forward to the province and ask that there be some kind of legislation; that this burning no longer be al- lowed anywhere in proximity of municipalities.”
Jangula said that there is an- other thing to consider when putting pressure on homes to stop using wood as a heat source, or to upgrade their wood stoves: Cost.
“If we just automatically but a ban on wood stoves, that would be a war on the poor,” he said. “We have people that live in (certain areas) that are not in as wealthy of homes, or as valuable of homes, as in east Courtenay and Crown Isle. A lot of those are older homes that do burn wood. And a lot of these people, to comply with what a lot of these groups want, they would all have to put in these (home) heat exchang- ers, and I understand they are around $15,000.”
As for the beating he took on social media, Jangula said a thick skin is required in his line of work.
“There are just some people who see things one way and they are not going to see things any other way, thank you very much. I tend not to spend a lot of time on those people be- cause there are some people you just can’t convince.”
–With files from The City of Courtenay