OUR VIEW JUNE 26: Maintenance of air quality must continue.

Gathering information on air quality is easy, making meaningful policy is the difficult part.

An article in the Sept. 26, 2012 issue of the Grand Forks Gazette told residents that data on ground level air quality was collected on a set route during the summer by Jordan Andrews, a student from the University of Victoria. Andrews was supervised by Wayne Kopan, the environmental and building construction services manager for the City of Grand Forks at the time.

Data collection was ongoing through the winter and will continue through the summer, 2013.

The purpose of the collection was to determine the levels of particulate matter of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or less in size, particles so small that they can penetrate the respiratory system and become the cause of serious ailments.

During the winter a half-dozen volunteers followed the  route taken by Andrews to measure the variations in colder weather conditions.

Gathering the information is the easy part of this study. The difficult part is to make meaningful policy decisions based on the data. Kopan stated that truck traffic exhaust emissions and road dust were the source of major spikes in the summer data. He stated that in winter there are likely to be higher ratings in specific areas because of smoke from wood stoves.

How will those among them who are  polluters be identified and dealt with? Diesel exhaust is a mixture of over 400 particulates, gases and toxic organic compounds that result from the burning of diesel fuel. The state of California has designated 40 of these compounds as toxic. Road dust can also be a mixture of particulates, some coming from tires and the asphalt road surface.

Although the city must be commended for wanting to improve the quality of the air in the basin, do residents really pay much attention to the air they breathe?  Some appear to, but many others are oblivious. Gyro Park is a prime location for high concentrations of diesel exhaust emissions and road dust yet the park is used frequently.

There are other so-called hot spots along the set route. Will this be another report that is left on a shelf somewhere in city hall or will it be followed by another by-law that will require enforcement? Fortunately the city has appointed Kopan as bylaw enforcement officer and he will carry out those duties once several new bylaws are passed by city council.

Unfortunately there is no bylaw to govern the behaviour of those who pollute the air, with the exception of the no idling bylaw.  While the city is gathering information on fine particulate matter in the air, some residents would prefer that ground level ozone be the focus of its work. Ground level ozone-a key ingredient of smog–is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight.

It is an air pollutant that damages human health and vegetation. Major sources of NOx and VOC are industrial operations, electrical utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapours, and chemical solvents. Ground level ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. Asthma, bronchitis and emphysema can be worsened.

Should another study be conducted or should the environment committee concentrate first on drafting a set of ambient air quality standards for the valley the city and then try to convince the folks in Area D to abide by them? That is a huge challenge.

– Grand Forks Gazette