Corridor air quality becoming a concern 

Vehicles contribute 80 per cent of pollution; population expected to double

By Andrew Mitchell

Sea to Sky communities have been working with the Ministry of the Environment since 2005 to develop a regional air quality management plan, recognizing the growing threat to air quality in the corridor.

The air quality still remains quite good, compared to many areas of the province. However, given the likelihood that the population of the corridor will almost double over the next 25 years, the growth of tourism, and the corresponding increase in highway traffic, the Ministry of the Environment encouraged communities to come up with a plan to address air quality before it becomes an issue.

According to regional meteorologist Cindy Walsh, one of two Ministry representatives on the Sea to Sky Air Quality Coordinating Committee, the corridor was close to receiving its first air quality advisory this past summer.

“Squamish is generally the worst for particulate, to the point where we were close to the threshold where we would issue an advisory,” said Walsh, who gave an update on the status of the air quality management strategy at a Tuesday open house.

“Whistler has more of a concern with ozone, but we’re still not at the level yet that it would be a real concern.

“That said, air quality is a growing health problem, and not just for children and the elderly. Everybody has different sensitivities, and as far as we know there’s no safe level of exposure.”

About 80 per cent of all air pollution, including particulate and ozone, is generated by vehicles, although Walsh says concentrations will decrease as gas companies produce cleaner-burning fuels and phase out some harmful ingredients. As well, vehicles themselves have potential to become more efficient and produce less pollution.

Industry is also a source of pollution, but one that is being addressed by the companies themselves.

Probably the most challenging source of pollution is wood burning stoves and burning. Burning is already regulated in parts of the corridor, but Walsh says it might be necessary to better coordinate plans to determine where burning can take place and when. As for wood stoves, newer stoves are generally more efficient and produce less pollution than older models. People should also be conscious of the problem, she says, and use wood stoves less frequently.

The committee has put together a list of 18 recommendations to address air quality. People in corridor communities will be able to make their comments online at for the next few months, after which point the committee members will put together a final draft in early 2007 for approval by local and regional governments. The goal is to start implementing the final recommendations as soon as possible.

When it comes to transportation, the current list of recommendations suggests integrating local transit systems, lobbying transit providers to reduce vehicle emissions, promoting public transportation to residents and visitors, reducing vehicle idling through education and bylaws, promoting the use of the best available technology and equipment for construction and industry, investigating the impact of off-road vehicle emissions, and promoting improvements in vehicle emissions performance. The last suggestion would be partly achieved with something similar to the Air Care program in the Lower Mainland.

For area source polluters, such as woodstoves, the plan recommends developing an airshed-wide smoke control strategy, as well as assisting in the development of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

For point source polluters, including industrial sources, the plan recommends ensuring that power generation in the airshed supports the strategy, and working with the local pulp and paper industry to reduce emissions.

Other recommendations include expanding current air quality initiatives, promoting the use of alternative energy sources and systems, sharing information on the Sea to Sky Air Quality Website, implementing a public outreach and education campaign, coordinating with other organizations, developing the business case for air quality actions, and incorporating the strategy in other plans throughout the corridor.

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