Saturday, 18 November 2017

Wood stoves are a wide and persistent problem that expose tens of thousands in BC to high levels of risk

Here's a clear picture of how hyperlocal the pollution from wood stove use can be. This is near Duncan BC on Vancouver Island. Note the differences from sensors nearby and the see-saw pattern that reflects perfectly the nature of wood burning. It is also clearly an indoor appliance given the cycling with stoking/reloading the fire.





Monday, 14 August 2017

Real-time air quality monitoring: Why would you want anything less?

Here we go again Kamloops. Wood smoke pollution is starting to build rapidly yet government sensors are slow off the mark once again. Our community and all communities deserve real-time and not averaged and lagged indicators for air pollution. The government hates these low-cost devices because they erode their control over access to information and individuals/alternative interpretations of risk.



A diesel truck example of PM2.5 emissions

Here's what happens when one very dirty diesel water delivery truck drives past a PurpleAir sensor. Note the spike and relatively higher level of PM2.5 compared to other sensors in the area. The increase in pollution is still a fraction of what wood burning stoves and fireplaces generate, and the diesel pollution dropped in a few minutes. We still need to work on replacing such polluters since air quality is the biggest environmental health risk of our times. Air pollution is also the main and likely only driver of climate change.



Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The AQHI downplays exposures from particulate pollution

How much is a human life worth? If you live in rural British Columbia or in resource-based communities like Kamloops you may be surprised to learn that your life is worth far less than someone from Vancouver or Victoria.

Recent forest fires in the interior of BC, and the massive amounts of wood smoke produced, demonstrate how risk communication tools like the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) are designed to treat differentially exposures across populations.

The AQHI is a scale used in Canada to weigh the relative contribution of three air pollutants; namely, particulate matter in the 2.5 micron range (PM2.5), ground level ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. It normally ranges between 1-10 or from “low” to “very high” health risk but can reach numbers like 49 as was recorded on August 3, 2017, in Kamloops.

The formula used for calculating the AQHI is straightforward and it involves using a three-hour average for these pollutants in micrograms/m3 for PM2.5, and parts-per-billion (ppb) for ozone and nitrogen dioxide. A weight is assigned to each of these pollutants based on observed adverse health outcomes.

In BC, the air quality objective for PM2.5 (24-hour average) is 25 micrograms/m3. With recent forest fires, numbers have been in the 150-200 range for several consecutive weeks.

The AQHI is mathematically flawed and out of line with these objectives. It downplays the significance of PM2.5 exposures and it generates low AQHI levels when air pollution risks from PM2.5 are actually high.

For example, a community exposed to no nitrogen dioxide, no ozone, and 100 micrograms/m3 of PM2.5 pollution yields an AQHI of 5, or “moderate risk.”  This is actually a staggering amount of pollution yet the risk messaging is tempered and muted. It would take 400 micrograms/m3 of PM2.5 with this scenario to hit a 10 on the AQHI. China issues “red alert” warnings when 24-hour averages exceed 150 micrograms/m3.

The AQHI poorly protects people in rural and resource-based communities from particulate pollution, and it seems designed more for urban environments where ozone and nitrogen dioxide pollution are more common. As a result, this tool exposes us to higher levels of risk.




Michael D. Mehta, Ph.D. (August 8, 2017) 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Should industrial polluters be shut down during forest fires?

The following commentary is from Gabriola Island Clean Air Society director Dr. Michael Mehta. Dr. Mehta is a Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Thompson Rivers University and an expert on health and environmental risk issues.

In cities like Beijing, when a "red alert" day is called due to high air pollution levels, many restrictions come into effect including a shutdown of industrial operations that may exacerbate the problem.
With the extremely high pollution levels in Kamloops over the past month, the following questions arise: To what extent do current industrial operations like those engaged in by the Domtar Pulp Mill contribute to these high levels, and do their operations makes thing worse during emergency situations like this?
This is a very difficult question to answer completely, and without full access to provincial air quality data I can only make some inferences and educated guesses.
Here's what I have seen, and this suggests that a lot more work is needed on these questions.
First, we began seeing a spike in PM2.5 levels around July 8 in Kamloops. PM2.5 levels can come from a variety of sources including pulp operations, traffic, residential wood burning practices, slash burning, and of course forest fires. In the past, the PurpleAir network that I setup in Kamloops showed very big spikes in PM2.5 levels that coincided with visible pollution from Domtar plus notable sulphur smells that come from its processing operations. There is no doubt that Domtar can rapidly spike PM2.5 levels in Kamloops, and provincial air pollution readings for Total Reduced Sulphur confirm that this is primarily (if not exclusively) from this polluter.
Second, Total Reduced Sulphur emissions are not associated (as far as I can see in the literature) with forest fires themselves. They come from industrial processes and also from municipal sewers and sewage treatment plants as well as swamps, bogs and marshes. 
Preliminary analysis [based on Kamloops Federal Building Air Monitoring Station: "Contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – British Columbia."
If we look at PM2.5 (hourly averaged) data from July 31-August 7 and Total Reduced Sulphur (hourly averaged) data for the same time period, it seems clear to me that the contribution of Domtar to the current pollution situation from forest fires is significant.
The peaks on August 3, 5, 6 and 7 overlap almost perfectly with little latency between PM2.5 levels and Total Reduced Sulphur. Since Domtar is likely emitting PM2.5 at the same time as Total Reduced Sulphur, it is reasonable to conclude that these very high levels (especially the unprecedented spike on August 3) are a combination of Domtar emissions and forest fires.






If so, it only makes sense to immediately shutdown such industrial operations to avoid creating a compounded problem."



Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Air quality update as of 10:55PM on July 18

The air quality on Gabriola Island is returning to acceptable levels.


Forest fire smoke finally hits Gabriola Island

Our PurpleAir network of realtime air quality monitors is starting to show the first signs of air pollution from the forest fires in the interior of BC. The air quality can change dramatically and quickly as we saw in Kamloops these past two weeks. Keep an eye on our live sensor map by clicking here. There is no provincial air quality monitoring on the island so our citizen science initiative through this non-profit is the place to go for information.



We can see the trend line going up rapidly this afternoon around 3PM.




These are the current sensor readings for a sister network in Kamloops. Anything over 25 micrograms/cubic meter for a 24 hour averaging period is considered unacceptably high.





Monday, 10 July 2017

PurpleAir sensors provide an accurate and local view of air pollution

Over the past two years the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society has worked with community groups and individuals to setup more than 50 low-cost, realtime air quality monitors in BC. These devices made by PurpleAir have created a more nuanced and detailed picture of our air sheds, and also have provided much needed empirical evidence to support the claim that wood burning from a variety of sources creates local pollution hot spots that are not being detected by provincial air quality monitoring.
The accuracy of these instruments has been questioned by some, in part, because people are often uncomfortable with the results. 
Residential wood burning including the use of fireplaces, wood stoves, bon fires, and yard clearing exposes people who live nearby to air pollution risks that are hyper local, and as high (but on an ongoing albeit episodic basis) as forest fire smoke.
The forest fires unfolding in the interior of British Columbia this past week provide some important glimpses into the value of using a distributed, low cost "swarm" of sensors like this, and also show how accurate they truly are.
A comparison of Gabriola Island using the PurpleAir sensor data and data from the provincial sensor in Harmac, and PurpleAir sensor data in Kamloops with one of the provincial sensors, yields virtually identical results on July 10. 
Sensors can be seen in realtime here.
Gabriola Island - PurpleAir readings


Gabriola Island - Harmac provincial monitor



Kamloops - PurpleAir readings



Kamloops - Federal Buliding provincial monitor




However, PurpleAir sensors provide a lot a lot more detail and granularity and measure pollution down to the neighbourhood level. The slight differences are due to the provincial sensors being reported with hourly averaging while the PurpleAir data streams live every 20 seconds.
They also cost a fraction of a provincial sensor. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wood smoke creates victims who have real stories to share




Susy Mallin shares with the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society her story about wood smoke and how it has affected her life. She lives in Port Alberni, BC and this woman is out of options. How does your right to burn trump these concerns?

My story is one of a vibrant, creative and full life gone very wrong due to the belief that
burning wood is harmless to ones self and others. I myself once lived under this
misconception and now realize that no one has the right to inflict the terrible toxic harm
that comes from any kind of wood burning.

I had always had a fireplace in my home. In the 70’s I lived in the Slocan Valley and
burned wood as a heat source. My youngest child was a toddler, and developed
bronchitis that became so bad she spent 2-3 months a year for about 3 years in the
hospital in an oxygen tent. No one connected my daughter’s illness to the burning of
wood in our home, and the concentration of wood smoke in the environment which was
created from all of the other homes using wood as well. We moved to Vancouver, a
supposedly much more polluted place than the lovely rural Slocan Valley, and she never
again had to return to the hospital for bronchitis. We know now that it was the wood
burning as she is in her mid 40’s and attempts to avoid woodsmoke as it brings on the
bronchitis and migraines.

In the late 80’s my design career was in full gear. I opened a small jewelry making
business employing about 15 people and sold hand crafted jewelry all over Canada and
the States. Due to some of the chemicals in the industrial glues we used (even though we
used safety precautions) I became ill and found myself slightly sensitive to things that at
one time did not bother me. This illness passed, but the sensitivity to everyday products
became something I lived with. I stopped wearing perfumes, avoided certain cleaning
products, and carried on living. I didn’t give it a lot of thought at the time, as it had not
yet impacted my life in any disabling way.

I had a successful career as a designer, and was also a professional musician. My social
life was wonderful, I had a loving family, owned my own homes at times in the city, and
at times in the gorgeous Gulf Islands. I was very fit and active. The increase in my
sensitivities to chemicals seemed under control and I really had no idea what was to
come.

Slowly my sensitivities intensified. I had always had a fireplace in each of my homes,
and found slowly but surely I was becoming slightly ill each time I burned wood. I
stopped burning wood completely somewhere around 2001. At this point I had only
been burning for ambience for many years. I lived in a rural community at the time, and
began to feel more overwhelmed with how many products were making me ill. I started
the never ending task of attempting to keep the smoke from the other homes around me
from entering the house. It was the beginning of my nightmare, and the beginning of the
end of the life I knew.

In 2010 I made my last appearance as a musician, and socialized at a design event for
the last time. I had become so sensitive to products containing chemicals as well as the
air pollution from petroleum and smoke particulates outside that I became almost
housebound. It was at this time that I was told the name of the illness I was suffering
was Multiple Chemical Sensitivities or Multiple Chemical Injury. I could no longer function in any productive way.

I gave up my house and moved into a small cabin on 2 acres near Gibsons BC. The
neighbours all used wood to heat their homes, burn their trash, have their camp fires...
all year long for one reason or another smoke crept into my little home which was
becoming sealed up with tin foil on the inside and plastic on the outside to prevent
smoke from getting in. Many things made me ill, but smoke was like a terrifying
monster leaving me in convulsions, unable to breathe, walk or speak. I could not leave
the cabin as the air outside was worse than the air inside. I had nowhere to run. This
constant poisoning exacerbated my already debilitating illness and my sensitivities grew
exponentially. I became sensitive even to natural volatile organic compounds. Now even
nature had become my enemy. I could not wear a respirator as I became sensitive to the
materials they are made of, and I could not use oxygen as the metal the tanks are made
from began to contaminate the oxygen inside. I was left with only a ceramic mask with a
piece of organic fabric soaked in filtered water to hold over my face when being
attacked by the fine particulates.

I have moved twice since leaving the cabin, searching for a more smoke free
environment. I am totally housebound now. My son is my full time caregiver. No one
can visit me as I am so sensitive I become ill from whatever chemical product may be
lurking on them. I am sensitive to chemicals in clothing and have a very difficult time
with even organic clothing. I cannot tolerate most heat sources and must spend
thousands of dollars for heaters made for people with my condition and am fortunate to
have found something I can tolerate to stay warm. My entire past is wiped out as far as
life with my children and grandchildren, beloved friends, furniture, clothing, precious
items people collect through life. I cannot have printed material in my home. The list
goes on. It is a life of isolation so devastating. My family visits are over skype or the
phone (both of which I can only tolerate for a small amount of time). I have no wifi,
only the old ethernet system and no cell phone.

Doctors who specialize in this illness say avoidance is the only treatment they know
really works. Constant exposure to smoke was the strong catalyst that drove my illness.
It does not matter how clean you think you are burning. Wood smoke has deadly toxic
chemicals that kill thousands of people yearly. I cannot practice avoidance from
chemicals no matter what I do because people burn wood in every community and
believe it is their right to do so even though they are poisoning themselves, their children
and loved ones and their neighbours.

Shame on all who refuse to see the truth because it impacts their life style. The truth is a
click away as the scientific data is there for all to see.

I have applied for Physician assisted suicide and my doctor, family and friends are all
supportive of this decision. I live like a trapped animal and they have seen this develop
with their own eyes and know it to be truth.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Press release - Wood Smoke is a Serious Health Hazard

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Wood Smoke is a Serious Health Hazard

(April 6, 2017, Vancouver, British Columbia)— Vicki Morell feels like a prisoner in her own home. And she warns that if it happened to her and her family, it can happen to you too. 

The misery began 12 years ago when wood smoke from a neighbour’s fireplace began to permeate the Morell family’s home. The smoke gives Morell headaches and causes burning eyes and other health effects. “My wood-burning neighbours have told me that it is their right to burn wood,” said Morell. "But what about my right to breathe fresh clean air in my own home? I don’t understand why the right to burn wood outweighs another’s right to breathe clean air.”

Morell used to think that closing windows would keep out the wood smoke, but she soon discovered that she was wrong. Wood smoke particles are far smaller than the width of a human hair — so tiny that, research has shown, the insides of nearby houses can wind up having nearly 80% of the outside level of wood smoke. If someone living near you burns wood, it is virtually impossible to keep their wood smoke out of your home. 

Morell’s experience led her to establish the Canadian Clean Air Alliance in 2007, which has brought together people across Canada who are also plagued by wood smoke pollution in their neighbourhoods. 

And now this past year Morell and a group of concerned Canadians have joined up with a new science-based international coalition, Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution (DSAWSP). 

One of DSAWSP's founding board members is Dr. Michael Mehta, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Thompson Rivers University. According to Mehta, many people are still not aware that wood burning is a significant health and environmental hazard. He says that DSAWSP was formed to bring the medical and scientific research on wood burning to the general public and to advocate for legal and regulatory protections for neighbours of wood-burning households and businesses.

Modern society has made great strides in eliminating the health hazards of secondhand cigarette smoke, but little has been done to protect people from secondhand wood smoke, even though research suggests that wood smoke may be even more hazardous to human health. Change-out programs of old wood stoves for new ones provide little health protection for the money invested, and may even be counterproductive. Certified wood stoves in actual in-home usage have been shown in multiple studies to be far more polluting than their certification levels suggest, and to release even higher levels of some toxins than older wood stoves. 

According to DSAWSP’s board chair, Utah-based physician Dr. Brian Moench, “Burning ten pounds of wood releases as many toxic chemicals as 6,000 packs of cigarettes. For far too long, wood burning has been given an undeserved free ride by many government agencies. It’s time for the global community to embrace the urgency to eliminate wood burning wherever possible.” For more information on Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution and on the health and environmental hazards of wood burning, see DSAWSP’s website at woodsmokepollution.org.  

###


Michael D. Mehta, Ph.D, mmehta@tru.ca 250-852-7275  
Brian Moench, MD drmoench@yahoo.com 801-243-9089
Vicki Morell vmorell@telus.net


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Heating Your Home With Wood Is More Dangerous Than You Likely Realize

Please consider reading this article/declaration on the risks associated with exposure to wood smoke. It was written by a coalition of scientists, physicians, and others. Unfortunately no local media or even provincial media will touch this topic. Please feel free to share it.

Heating Your Home With Wood Is More Dangerous Than You Likely Realize

It may be natural, but there’s nothing safe or environmentally sound about heating your home with wood or clearing debris and yard waste in a burn barrel or pile.

Many communities around North America and elsewhere are grappling with how best to manage exposure to wood smoke, and to understand more fully the community level and individual impacts associated with this serious and growing environmental health risk issue.

Currently 1 in 9 deaths on a global scale are due to air pollution. In Canada, air pollution kills 9 times more people than automobile accidents.  In many rural communities in British Columbia, the main source of air pollution is from wood burning practices at the residential level. In some city neighbourhoods, wood smoke wafts around houses and moves through walls with ease given the small size of the particles contained within it.

The health impacts of exposure to wood smoke are diverse, and a substantial scientific and medical body of evidence points to short-term (acute) effects and longer-term (chronic) effects. Wood smoke is a cocktail of small, dangerous particles and droplets that easily work their way into our lungs, bloodstream, brain, and other organs.

Acute exposure to wood smoke triggers asthma attacks, allergic responses, heart attacks, and stroke. In pregnant women, wood smoke exposure is linked to a range of developmental responses in the fetus that lead to smaller lungs, impaired immune systems, and other abnormalities.

Chronic exposure is definitively linked to heart disease, a range of cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Type II diabetes.

Although children and the elderly are at higher risk, wood smoke affects everyone and its cumulative impacts on our health care systems are becoming more evident.

It is also known that people who heat their homes with wood burning appliances have higher indoor air pollution levels, and that they put neighbours in harms way from these emissions.

Even the cleanest wood burning stoves generate significantly more particulate matter than dozens of diesel trucks and cars combined. Due to their mass and aerodynamic properties, the particles of concerns in wood smoke tend to linger for hours or days at ground level, and atmospheric phenomena including inversions and low venting index days tend to hold these pollutants close to the ground in neighbourhoods where people live and work.

Wood smoke is made up of more than 200 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are significantly more toxic than the chemical mixture found in tobacco smoke. The smell associated with burning wood that many profess to enjoy is actually benzene – one of the most carcinogenic chemicals. Other compounds including phenols (especially syringol) contribute to this bouquet. Wood smoke also releases significant amounts of dioxins, furans, heavy metals, and other equally hazardous chemicals.

Burning wood to heat your home is problematic from an environmental perspective too.  It is well established that black carbon released from biomass burning acts as a powerful short-lived climate changing pollutant. This soot is circulated in the atmosphere, absorbs and retains incoming heat from the Sun, and lands on glaciers thus accelerating their rate of melting and retreat.

Burning wood is not a carbon neutral source of energy either, and many new studies conclude that it is a disaster for climate change. Burning wood releases more carbon per unit of energy than burning coal. The burning of trees immediately puts decades’ worth of stored carbon into the atmosphere. This carbon would otherwise be locked into the soil where it plays an important ecological role in forests through processes of decomposition, nutrient cycling, and supporting new growth.

In communities where wood burning for residential heating is common, much of the wood used is trucked in from wood lots. The environmental footprint of this practice needs to be more fully understood. Additionally, importing wood from elsewhere does nothing to reduce the risk of forest fires in communities who use these products. In fact, the use of wood burning appliances actually increases fire risk through chimney fires, release of stray sparks, and the storage of large amounts of combustible material around homes.

There are currently many alternatives to wood for residential heating applications. A hierarchy based on impact, cost-effectiveness, and emergency preparedness is one way to think about these choices. For everyday heating, mini-split air source heat pumps are an excellent option. They are often 3 to 4 times more efficient than using electric baseboard heaters, and can work in colder climates with the correct choice of technology. They are also less expensive to operate than buying several cords of wood each year. Consider also the convenience of simply clicking a button to heat your home.

Efficient propane stoves and heaters are an excellent complement to heat pumps and can provide top-up heating on very cold days as well as backup heating during power outages. Wood stoves should only be used during extended power outages on cold winter days, and can be thought of as the equivalent of a standby generator. As a rule of thumb, people should wait for at least three hours during a power outage before starting a fire. We would never dream of running a generator every day to power our homes, and similarly the use of a wood stove for daily heating should be reconsidered.

Regional and municipal governments have been reluctant to deal with these issues for a range of reasons. The vocal and sometimes vitriolic response by the wood burning industry and its customers often drowns out reasoned discussion, and many elected officials perceive this issue as unwinnable or perhaps a form of “political suicide.” Instead, passing the buck is common and local governments play a game of hot potato where neither wants to step in to protect people from a well-established health risk.

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment has been dancing around this issue for decades as well, and only offers to study the problem in more detail. Given that many of these government meteorologists can barely predict weather patterns with any accuracy, relying on them to protect our health from air pollution is sheer folly.

Perhaps we need a different approach and a different provincial lead on this topic. Since wood smoke is primarily a human health issue, and the air shed is shared by all, it makes sense that the British Columbia Ministry of Health become the natural home for wood smoke and other air pollution issues. In general, municipal governments have shown that they are incapable of acting decisively and strongly to protect public health and the well-being of people in their communities.

Other actors have also played a decidedly obstructionist role in moving toward protection of the public interest on this issue. The BC Lung Association has been a strong advocate of wood stove exchange programs. Working with the hearth industry and the provincial government, the BC Lung Association has legitimized a flawed technology. So-called “clean” EPA certified stoves are not the solution. These stoves never perform in the real world as well as laboratory tests indicate, emit more dioxins and furans due to their higher operating temperature, and begin to degrade in terms of performance very quickly. They also emit hundreds of times more pollution than using natural gas, propane, and other hydrocarbon-based home heating appliances.

Community groups are leading the charge on raising awareness of this issue. For far too long our local and provincial governments in British Columbia have ignored wood smoke and downplayed the significance of this risk issue. In many rural communities and in smaller cities, governments have dropped the ball for decades and refuse to adequately monitor air quality citing budgetary and personnel limitations. Concerned citizens have set-up an extensive and growing network of low-cost air quality monitors made by PurpleAir. 

Kamloops currently has 15 of these WiFi-enabled, real-time particle sensors. Other communities in British Columbia with this technology include Parksville, Duncan, Courtenay, Lasqueti Island, Gabriola Island, Vancouver, Victoria, and Prince George. These monitors can be viewed at http://map.purpleair.org

To date, the monitors in Kamloops, Gabriola Island, Parksville, and Courtenay are showing a very distinct and troublesome pattern. Because of wood smoke, these communities have in some locations air pollution levels during winter months that far exceed levels seen in large cities like Victoria and Vancouver. Some of our sensor locations have regular readings that rival bad air days in China and India. A sensor located at Ord Road in Kamloops often displays these kinds of readings.

Wood smoke is creating hyper-local hot spots that expose people in the immediate neighbourhood to levels of air pollution not normally recorded by provincial air quality monitors. A “swarm” of distributed monitors using PurpleAir technology is revealing a deep and significant problem that was previously undetected.

Wood smoke, and the cultural and social practices that allow it to be generated without much regulation and control, operates in a vacuum where preconceptions, origin stories, and strong emotions impair action. We need another narrative. Dealing compassionately yet effectively with wood smoke is part of this transition to a green, clean, and healthy future.


Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution

PurpleAir

Gabriola Island Clean Air Society

Families For Clean Air

Woodburnersmoke.net

Thompson Rivers University ECO Club