2010 Jan. 28: Canada, British Columbia, Alberni Valley: KEEPING ALBERNI VALLEY’S AIR CLEAN

RAWSEP’s view: Don’t burn wood, period.

2010 Jan. 28: Canada, British Columbia, Alberni Valley: KEEPING ALBERNI VALLEY’S AIR CLEAN

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SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News Shirley and Stan Boyd are enjoying the new woodstove they installed in November. The Boyds are the first people to take advantage of a woodstove exchange rebate program.

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By Susan Quinn – Alberni Valley News

Published: January 28, 2010 1:00 PM

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When the clouds settle in at the top of the Beaufort Range mountains, bringing the usual winter temperature inversion, something more ominous than a lack of sunshine lurks beneath the thick cloud covering the Alberni Valley: poor air quality.
Wood smoke pollution affects all parts of B.C., according to the B.C. Lung Association. Hardest hit are valley communities where temperature inversions prevent wood smoke from being dispersed.
An inversion happens when warm upper air acts like a lid and traps surface air and smoke near the ground. And it also traps the toxic particulate in smoke closer to the ground, where people breathe it in.
The province of British Columbia has a standard of acceptable particulate matter found in the air in a 24-hour period, and the Alberni Valley is usually above that number in the winter, said Bernadette Wyton, chairperson of the Air Quality Council of Port Alberni.
In January 2008, for example, when we had a particularly long stretch of temperature inversions, we were above that provincial average by 40 per cent.
“In most of our communities, certainly in our urban areas, we don’t accept contaminated drinking water. So why should we accept polluted air?” said Dr. Michael Brauer, professor at the UBC School of Environmental Health, and co-author of the annual BC State of the Air report, released in December.
“We have the technology to do things more efficiently, to do things in a way that we don’t emit pollutants into the air,” he said. “It’s really a matter of collective will, just getting it high enough on the agenda, and being though of as a right rather than something that would be nice to achieve.”
Members of the Port Alberni Air Quality Council couldn’t agree more. “Clean, clear air is not only aesthetically pleasing. It has a huge impact on our health and the pocket book of our health-care system,” Bernadette Wyton, chairperson of the air quality council related. “A 2008 Canadian Medical Association report estimated 306 premature deaths, 1,158 hospital admissions, 8,763 emergency department visits and 2,526,900 minor illnesses related to air pollution in B.C.
“Recent reports confirm that the price tag for hospital visits in B.C. due to poor air quality is at least $85 million per year.”
The air quality council was formally established in 2003 as part of the Citizens Stewardship Coalition.
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Since then, the council has run several different education campaigns to help ensure the cleanest possible air quality for the Alberni Valley. This year the council is concentrating on efficient use of woodstoves.
“As a community we have so much wood around it makes sense to use it for energy and heating,” Wyton said. However, it only makes sense if people burn wood in a much cleaner way.
Wood burning has experienced a shift over the years, from a time when wood was free and people made their own stoves, to using wood heat in central heating systems that must meet certain standards. That’s where the air quality council’s woodstove exchange program comes into play.
Administered through the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, the exchange program offers participants a $250 rebate to exhange their old woodstoves for smarter burning units. Units are then inspected.
Of the 100 rebates available between now and April, 27 have already been used, Wyton said. Four retailers are participating in the rebate: Dolan’s Gas Fitting and Heating Ltd. and West Coast Oil Burner in Port Alberni, Pioneer Stoves in Parksville and Sun Ray Heating in Nanaimo.
“Every one of those (stoves) that get changed out is a significant effect on our airshed,” Wyton said. She expects that for every woodstove exchanged for a more efficient model, 70 kilograms of particulate matter will be removed from the air.
“If we are successful in moving all 100 of our rebates…we would have improved air quality over the winter months by seven metric tonnes.”
The environment ministry estimates 42 per cent of pollution in the Alberni Valley comes from heat and energy production, she added.
Stan and Shirley Boyd were the first couple to take advantage of the woodstove exchange program in the Alberni Valley, last November. The couple have heated various homes with wood over the past 37 years, including the duplex they live in now. The air in their neighbourhood, which is just outside city limits to the northeast, can get quite smoky in the winter and they wanted to do their part to clean it up. Four years ago Stan Boyd put a new stove in for his father, who has the duplex next to theirs, and noticed a big difference.
“That’s what sold me,” Stan said. “When I put in my dad’s insert I could see the smoke coming from this side, but none (from his father’s side).”
They purchased a Canadian-made stove from one of the four dealers participating in the woodstove exchange. Their new stove produces much less smoke, and it burns cleaner, said Shirley.
The couple attended the Burn it Smart workshop held in November at the Port Alberni Fire Hall, where they not only learned about the exchange program, but they picked up some tips on how to burn in their woodstove.
They now build smaller, hotter fires, and even though the maker of their stove, Pacific Energy, claims customers will use one-third less wood, Stan said they’re using even less than that.
Fire Chief Tim Pley would be happy to hear that. He supports the woodstove exchange program not only because it will improve air quality in the Alberni Valley, but also because it brings an awareness to safer burning practices.
“A properly maintained stove and chimney is a safer stove and chimney,” Pley said. Thanks to in-kind assistance from the city and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, Pley was able to run the Burn it Smart workshop last November at the fire hall.
Virtually all chimney fires that occur in the Alberni Valley are caused by woodstoves, Pley said. The number of such fires “are way down compared to 20 years ago. People don’t burn as much and they’re learning to burn better.”
editor@albernivalleynews.com

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