An air quality watchdog recently set up a monitoring station in Sundre to gauge the amount of fine particulate matter floating around in the area.
Following a request last August from the South McDougal Flats Area Protection Society, the Parkland Airshed Management Zone (PAMZ) was able to allocate a mobile trailer equipped with an array of sophisticated scientific tools that will offer a glimpse into the local air’s condition.
“What this station is for is for going out and collecting data to help us better understand air quality issues, but also to help build a geographic database,” said Kevin Warren, PAMZ executive director, during a mid-May walk-through of the trailer with several members of the society.
Put in place behind the Town of Sundre’s main office in early May, the unit acquired samples for a month.
“Then we’ll come back in October and do a second month of monitoring,” Warren said.
Analyzing the air quality is a function of two main elements — what kinds of particles are ending up in the air, such as for example dust from gravel operations, as well as how those emissions behave once they’re in the atmosphere, he explained.
“If you want to understand air quality, you got to measure what’s in the air.”
The array of data the monitoring station gathers and compiles includes wind speeds and directions, relative humidity, temperature, as well as of course fine particulate matter, he said.
“There was a saying when I was in school that the solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. “That’s how we used to think. We don’t think that way anymore because we’ve now come to the realization that the earth has a finite carrying capacity. We think about things in terms of cumulative effects.”
Fine particulate matter refers to particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. To put that in perspective, Warren pointed out that a typical human hair is 60 microns. In other words, fine particulate matter is not even visible to the naked eye, although cumulatively the fine particles create a haze.
“We’re concerned about that size fraction because it gets past the little hairs in your nose, it doesn’t get washed down your throat — it goes down right into your lungs.”
However, gravel dust creates particles that are much larger than 2.5 microns, he said.
“You can see them, you can feel them. They’re a nuisance, they coat everything.”
If the samples analyzed by the monitoring station should yield a result that exceeds a pre-defined air quality objective of 100 micrograms per cubic metre, PAMZ will do further analysis, he said, adding that Alberta
Environment in that case would also be informed.
“We don’t enforce any regulations — we’re kind of a watchdog,” he said.
“We might propose actions or strategies, but it’s not us that would implement them…All we’re trying to do is better understand the issue.”
A response would generally come from stakeholders or municipalities. The province could even potentially mandate that any responsible companies take action, he said.
Read more: Air quality watchdog monitoring Sundre