Results of the Canadian Ambient Air Quality report were released recently, in which one of Sylvan Lake’s neighbouring community, Red Deer, was found to have failed to meet national air quality standards.
Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks, Shannon Phillips said she is concerned by the results in the Red Deer Region, stating she vows to take action to reduce air pollution in the city.
The City of Red Deer’s main air quality concern comes from the level of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) – an air pollutant of concern to people’s health when levels are too high. The tiny, microscopic particles in the air can reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated.
Currently Alberta Environment and Parks is working closely with the Parkland Airshed Management Zone (PAMZ) – an organization responsible for monitoring both Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, and surrounding municipalities air quality – to create a PM2.5 Response Plan. PAMZ executive director, Kevin Warren, stated in an interview with the Sylvan Lake News the province can expect to see the plan released later this year.
“What it [the report] is saying to us is that we have emissions present that are contributing to high particulate levels when the weather conditions become conducive to forming those health risking factors,” said Warren who referred to the winter of of 2010 and 2011 when ‘winter smog’ formed over the City of Red Deer as a result of high emissions and frigid temperatures, he added these two winters are some what responsible for air quality exceedances in the region. “We need to take action so that when we have similar weather patterns in the future – which we will – then we won’t have a recurrences.”
This summer the town of Sylvan Lake partnered with PAMZ where they took actions of their own in hopes of bettering air quality for residents. The ‘Breathe Easy’ initiative, an Idle Free education campaign aims to educate residents on the harmful effects idling vehicles can have on not only their wallets by wasting gas, but also the environment and people’s health by adding harmful emissions to the air.
“Over the summer we wanted to start getting residents familiarized with the health risks and dangers as well as the environmental impacts associated with idling so they can be more aware of their behaviour then when winter time comes around they can start working that information into their daily driving habits,” said Joanne Gaudet, communications coordinator for the Town of Sylvan Lake.
The Town launched a number of videos explaining the impacts of idling, to which Gaudet said received a fantastic response going ‘mini-viral’. They also conducted a survey which showed the average length of time residents idle their vehicles to be around eight minutes. The survey also indicated 67% of respondents stated they understood the effects of idling on the environment, however only 48% of respondents were concerned with the effects idling can have their own health and well-being.
PAMZ recognized the efforts of the Town, awarding them with the Action HERO (Helping the Environment Reduce Ozone) award.
“For a municipality such as Sylvan Lake to recognize the impact of excessive idling on air quality and then to want to take actions to address it is very progressive and speaks highly to their environmental stewardship,” said Warren.
Warren added that while there is no permanent air quality monitoring station located in Sylvan Lake, PAMZ has conducted temporary monitoring stations in the past near Wal-Mart following concerns in the summer of 2013 around what he called a ‘rotten egg smell’.
“We didn’t see anything noteworthy during that monitoring other than slightly above average levels of hydrogen sulphide – which can be known to cause a ‘rotten egg’ smell and there were a number of exceedances with the hydrogen sulphide levels, but it’s not really a health based objective, more so the high levels can be a nuisance to residents due to the smell,” explained Warren. “What we were able to determine in regards to the high levels is that there are wetlands to the south and east of where the monitoring station was and it’s quite a frequent thing that wetlands in the spring and early summer can produce higher than normal levels of hydrogen sulphide.”
He added on an average day air quality in Sylvan Lake is likely to be a great deal better than that of Red Deer’s as there are less emission emitters with the lake also playing a role in air quality.
“The lake can act as a sink – you can have water vapour hovering above the lake that could bring the numbers down,” said Warren.
Currently the Town hopes to continue with Idle Free initiatives by working alongside schools and adding to the list of schools who already have Idle Free zones in drop off and pick up areas.
They have already added an internal policy within Town fleets to ensure no work vehicles idle and also hope to add signage in front of municipal buildings to inform residents the areas are Idle Free zones.