New numbers reveal what Kamloops residents were hacking up last summer. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change says fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, in Kamloops once again last year exceeded air quality objectives due to smoke from wildfires.
“’17 and ’18 were unprecedented,” Ministry of Environment and Climate Change air quality meteorologist Ralph Adams said.
“Much higher than any previous years. Fine particulate matters exceeded for everything and it happened in most communities in the Interior. If we try to take out the wildfires, it seems to indicate that Kamloops is approximately at the objective level and it’s staying there. It’s not moving up or down. There’s no trend.”
The ministry measures 24-hour and annual averages of the contaminant because risks to human health come from low levels of exposure over long periods of time or high levels of exposure over short periods of time.
In 2018, the Federal Building air station downtown measured an annual average value of 12.5 micrograms per cubic metre, exceeding B.C.’s objective of eight micrograms per cubic metre. By comparison, 2017 saw 15.3 micrograms per cubic metre and 2016, when the city was not socked in from wildfire smoke, recorded an annual average of 7.8 micrograms per cubic metre.
Adam said it is expected air quality goal in Kamloops would have been met had wildfires not been burning in the region.
In addition to PM2.5, the ministry measures levels of nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, total reduced sulphur and SO2, all of which were determined to be well below objective levels.
As for odours from sulphur gases that do not carry a health risk, but are considered a nuisance, Kamloops in 2018 experienced 76 hours over the maximum desirable level of five parts per billion over one hour.
“To put it in context, the values in Prince George are usually around 1,000 [hours] in a year,” Adams said. “We are quite similar to Quesnel and other places that have a pulp mill, but we are much lower than Prince George, which has three mills.”
While it remains unclear whether this coming summer will bring similar air quality challenges, KTW asked if there is anything that can be done to prevent or cope with the smoke.
Adams said two measures in theory can be done: stop the emissions of the smoke (putting out the fires) and stop the transport of the smoke.
Short of that, he recommended seeking refuge in large buildings with good air conditioning/HVAC systems and purchasing HEPA filters to lower smoke concentration at home.