Comox Valley Wood Smoke a Serious Health Concern

A recent Health Canada study shows increased rates of heart attack during periods of elevated pollution. Data collected by the BC Ministry of Environment indicates high winter time wood smoke levels in the Comox Valley.

A recent Health Canada study has shown a causal link between wood smoke pollution and elevated levels of heart attacks. Dr. Scott Weichenthal of McGill University will be addressing a Comox Valley Regional District meeting of elected officials on April 4th, 2017 about his study.

In January and February of 2017, UBC conducted a mobile study of wood smoke pollution over a large area of the Comox Valley comprising the communities of Cumberland, Courtenay and Comox. The results will be published later this year. Preliminary data indicate continuing high levels of PM2.5, meaning particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter.

In 2016 BC Environmental Health Services released the results of a province-wide air quality study that showed Courtenay/Comox to have the second worst levels of winter-time PM2.5 in British Columbia. The study also concluded that, based on diurnal signatures of levoglucosan levels, this pollution is being generated by residential wood stoves.

A mobile air quality study conducted in 2009 by the University of Victoria showed that numerous areas within the Comox valley have very high concentrations of PM2.5. This preliminary study alerted the B.C. Ministry of Environment to a potential air quality problem in the Comox Valley, which led to the installation of the Air Quality Monitoring Station in Courtenay in 2011.

Since data from the municipal Air Quality Monitor has been coming in, both North Island Health Authority and B.C Ministry of Environment personnel have warned elected officials in the valley about high concentrations of PM2.5. Air advisories are issued each winter to warn residents about health concerns. These health warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The two most common retorts are: It’s slash burning from forestry and rural properties, not wood stoves; we can’t do anything about residential wood heat because it’s an economic issue for the poor.

The World Health Organization air quality guidelines indicated that PM2.5 pollution is a serious health concern in high concentrations more than 12 years ago.

Due to forestry on Vancouver Island over many decades, there is now a prevalence of firewood, and a long-term acceptance of heating with wood. Due to our humid climate, much of the firewood is not seasoned properly. This, together with relatively mild winter conditions, causes wood stoves to smoulder and burn inefficiently. This inefficient burning also increases the toxicity, and thus the well-understood negative health consequences of breathing PM2.5 from wood smoke.

This air quality problem is not limited to the Comox Valley alone. Wood smoke is a health issue in several BC communities. Port Alberni and the Cowichan Valley have recorded poor PM2.5 air quality over many years and are now taking action at the municipal level to reduce wood smoke pollution.

Residents are encouraged to contact local elected officials (provincial, municipal) to voice concerns about the health impacts of wood smoke in the Comox Valley.

Mike Mason

Mike Mason

Mike retired to the Comox Valley recently from the Yukon. He enjoys painting in his studio and can be seen outdoors either hiking or kayaking around beautiful Vancouver Island.
Mike Mason

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