YOU ASKED:There seems to be a lot of debate on the online forums regarding Kamloops' air quality. I've heard it is on par with Kelowna's but others seem to think it's terrible. Could you look into this and shed some light on this discussion?
OUR ANSWER:Your timing was fortuitous, Alex. We started poking around the Ministry of Environment via telephone on Monday and were told that, by coincidence, the City of Kamloops was about to release a background report on the status of air quality in the community.
That report came out Wednesday on the City's websiteand it lays out an interesting portrait of the air we breathe.
Among the findings:
* Air quality in Kamloops is generally good. There are periods of poorer air during wildfires and periods of poor dispersion within the valley resulting in increased levels of particulate matter (PM2.5). The key pollutants in Kamloops that are of concern for health are respirable particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground level ozone.
* Both PM2.5 and ozone levels are below both national and provincial standards. The only time Kamloops exceeded the acceptable levels was in 2004, the year of the great forest fires.
Interestingly, air quality in Kamloops is measured at two continuous air stations every hour. One is in Brocklehurst and another is downtown.
In the City's Air Quality Backgrounder document, released on Wednesday, the air quality in Kamloops is compared to Kelowna.
"Seems like they're pretty on par, for the most part, except when there's forest fires that affect one or the other, of course," said Environment Minister Terry Lake.
The most significant difference between Kamloops and Kelowna is that odours due to total reduced sulphur gasses (TRS) are very rare in Kelowna while they are common in Kamloops.
The Domtar pulp mill and City's sewer treatment plant on Mission Flats Road are two of the main sources of these sulphur odours. So, too, are the various pumping stations throughout town and the gas and petroleum installations near the weigh scales at Mount Dufferin.
"The upgrade of the sewage treatment plant will help a little bit with that and, of course, Domtar is much, much better than it used to be in the old days. If you know anyone from Kamloops way back when, they'll tell you the occasional whiff we get now was a constant in the old days."
These odours have been measured in Kamloops since the 1970s and they don't pose a risk to health; they're just unpleasant.
They are reported as the number of hours in a year that the hourly average exceeds five parts per billion - the B.C. Level A objective.
The highest odour levels are measured at the Brocklehurst station and since 2003 have ranged from eight to 72 hours per year with hourly concentrations greater than 5ppb. In the 1980's there were often more than 500 hours above 5ppb per year.
For comparison, in Prince George during 2010 the downtown monitor recorded over 1000 hours above 5ppb compared to 74 hours in Kamloops at the Brocklehurst monitor.
Since stinky sulphur odour is rare in Kelowna, we can't compare that city with ours.
Of course, air quality continues to be a subjective matter when it comes to public debate. Two people living on the same street will have two opinions on the quality of air.
So you will likely continue to see a debate between the virtues of our air, compared with Kelowna's.
If you're really concerned about it, we suggest you get involved in the City of Kamloops' Airshed Management Plan, which is being developed right now. There's even a survey you can take online at www.kamloops.ca.
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