A citizens’ group, Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, made a presentation Tuesday at regional district committee of the whole about poor air quality in the Comox Valley. The group is concerned about the health impacts of wood smoke. They asked the CVRD to establish an air quality advisory council, and to come up with actions to reduce wood smoke in the region.
“Many people are concerned about the thick soup of wood smoke we breathe in every winter,” said Jennell Ellis, a spokesperson for BCACV. “And we have the data to back it up: we have a serious air quality problem.”
A 2011-2013 B.C. government study of 13 communities in the Georgia Strait showed Courtenay had the worst air quality in terms of fine particulates. Courtenay was the only community to fail to meet the federal annual standard for fine particulate levels, and only one of two communities to fail to meet the daily standard.
Annual State of the Air reports by the BC Lung Association also show that, of 40 communities measured in the province, Courtenay is one of the five worst for fine particulate pollution.
BC’s Healthlink states that “particulate matter is considered the air pollutant of greatest concern to human health in B.C.” In the Comox Valley, wood smoke is the source of high particulate readings.
In addition to fine particulates, wood smoke contains many of the same toxic chemicals as cigarettes. BC Lung Association materials note that wood smoke contains volatile organic compounds such as furans, dioxins, benzene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are carcinogenic. It also contains harmful formaldehyde and nitrogen oxides.
“Breathing in so many fine particulates can affect the development of children’s lungs, increase respiratory infections, increase the risk of heart attacks and much more. And 50-70 per cent of what’s outside, gets inside a house,” said Ellis.
“Additionally, one fireplace burning 10 pounds of wood in an hour will produce almost as many carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as 3,000 packs of cigarettes.”
“Other B.C. communities with lower levels of pollution have been developing action plans and taking action,” group member Steven Faraher-Amidon added. “The fact the CVRD has staff looking at air quality is a step in the right direction. We are hopeful that the CVRD will start taking meaningful action to improve our air and reduce the health impacts.”
Courtenay director Larry Jangula said roughly five per cent of new homes contain anything that burns wood. Largely, west Courtenay has older homes, but he feels it would be unfair to ban all wood stoves.
“I think that would impose quite a hardship on people…But I do think that education is good.”
But Ellis feels the regulatory side is also needed.
Directors will discuss the issue in June when a staff report is due.