Monday, June 26, 2017

Air quality in Metro Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley airshed generally improving

Whether you live in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, or Whatcom County, we all breathe the same air. In fact, these areas are all in the same airshed which means that actions that cause air pollution in one area impacts all areas; air pollution doesn’t respect political borders.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is responsible for air pollution control and air quality management in our region. This is different than other parts of the province where management of air quality is the direct responsibility of the provincial government.

Metro Vancouver recently released its annual “Caring for the Air” report. For the most part, air quality is improving in our region. There are two broad categories of air pollution that the report exams, fine particulate matter and gas-phase air pollutants. Fine particulate matter is bad news because it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness, and as stated by Health Canada “mortality and morbidity endpoints.”

The following map shows the 24-hour average for fine particulate matter in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley in 2016. In 2016, Metro Vancouver air quality objects were exceeded in Mission for one day, and at Abbotsford Airport on a separate day, though both occurrences happened in the spring.

2016 24-hour average of fine particulate matter. Select map to enlarge.

The following three maps show the 24-hour averages for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone in 2016.

2016 24-hour average of sulphur dioxide in air. Select map to enlarge.

2016 24-hour average of nitrogen dioxide ozone in air. Select map to enlarge.

2016 24-hour average of ground-level ozone. Select map to enlarge.

As seen in the following graph, levels of gas-phase air pollutants have been generally declining in our region. Sulphur dioxide in the air has reduced significantly due to stricter requirements by the Canadian and US federal governments, and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, to use low-sulphur marine fuel.

10-year trend in gas-phase air pollutants in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley. Select graph to enlarge.

Unfortunately, average ground-level ozone is increasing. Ground-level ozone levels are also higher on average the further you go up the Fraser Valley. Metro Vancouver attributes this increase in ground-level ozone partly to “increase in ozone formed outside Canada coming into our region.” Metro Vancouver is currently developing a plan to reduce ground-level ozone. Ground level ozone is linked with increased hospital admissions, increased asthma symptom, and decreased productivity of farming according to Environment Canada.

For more information about air quality and Metro Vancouver’s role in managing pollutants in the air we breathe, please check out their full report.

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