Wood smoke continues to poison our air, lungs

Wood heating emits nearly three times the amount of PM2.5 (particulate matter) in six months as all types of transportation combined in a year. HealthLink BC says PM is considered the air pollutant of greatest concern to human health in the province.

Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley notes that cigarette and wood smoke are both full of PM2.5 and other toxins that reach our lungs and travel into our bloodstream. Infants and children are among the most susceptible to the effects of fine particulates.

In a June 10 presentation to Courtenay council, Breathe Clean Air member Jennel Ellis said wood smoke is the main air quality issue in the Valley.

“Particularly within municipal boundaries, wood heating is the main source of pollution,” she said.

Two mobile monitoring studies have measured PM2.5 pollution in different areas of the Valley. The worst wood smoke pollution was mostly recorded in older residential neighbourhoods.

A B.C. government air monitoring station at Courtenay Elementary measures PM2.5. Readings frequently fail to meet B.C.’s Air Quality Objective for a 24-hour average. Air quality advisories are sometimes issued for the bad days.

Of 13 communities monitored on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, Breathe Clean Air CV says Courtenay has the worst air quality.

“As our medical health officer said, there is no safe level of exposure (to air pollution), so any reduction is going to have health benefits,” Ellis said.

In terms of government action, Breathe Clean Air CV advocates educating the public about health impacts, transitioning people to non-wood heat, offering incentive programs and developing regulatory tools. Individuals can help by using clean heat, and by stopping outdoor burning.

Also at the June 10 meeting:

•Council approved construction of a 20-unit apartment development in the 600 block of Fifth Street, on the edge of downtown and the Old Orchard neighbourhood. Coun. Doug Hillian said the project will “fill a gaping hole” and create housing.

“That’s the kind of development we’re hoping to see,” Coun. Melanie McCollum said.

•The City will participate in a Regional Housing Needs Report Program co-ordinated by the CVRD, which will apply for grant funding on the City’s behalf. Housing needs reports are intended to help communities identify gaps in housing supply. Reports require the collection of about 50 types of data.

•Council approved a motion from McCollum to have staff prepare a bylaw to prohibit smoking and vaping in City of Courtenay parks and properties. Staff recommend repealing a previous, similar bylaw, particularly due to cannabis use.

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