Another year, another series of spring air quality advisories in Vernon | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Another year, another series of spring air quality advisories in Vernon

Vernon residents are no strangers to dust advisories which become commonplace at the end of winter and into spring. Dust from grit spread on roads for traction in the winter is the main culprit.
March 18, 2021 - 4:30 PM

Despite the fact that Vernon is now on its third day of the latest road dust advisory, the quality of the air in the North Okanagan city this year is not significantly worse than in previous years.

Statistics from the Ministry of Environment show little change in the last five years when it comes to dust polluting the city's air.

In 2020, the Ministry issued 11 days of dust advisories between Jan. 1 and March 31. So far this year, 12 have been issued.

"I wouldn't say it's getting better, but I wouldn't say it's getting significantly worse," Ministry of Environment air quality meteorologist Trina Orchard told "(It) is heavily dependent on meteorological conditions."

While different from a road dust advisory, the statistics show that the dust count rose above 50 micrograms per cubic metre in a 24 period, 11 times in 2017, 16 times in 2018, and 17 times in 2019. Statistics for 2020 are not yet available. The dust monitor was only installed in 2016 after an eight-year hiatus.

Vernon residents are no strangers to dust advisories which become commonplace at the end of winter and into spring.

However, the City is implementing new measures in its battle against dust.

City staff told Vernon council during its March 8 meeting that six new air-quality sensors had been purchased and would be set up around the City.

Orchard says dust is very localized and doesn't move far from its point of origin so identifying where dust is coming from helps in mitigating the issue.

The City has also purchased a new $350,000 vacuum street sweeper. The pandemic has delayed its delivery but it should be on the roads in Vernon by April.

Over the winter the City also moved to a new form of grit designed to cause less dust.

The biggest cause of the high concentration of coarse particulate matter in the air is vehicles, which combined with the right weather conditions, flick dust into the air which then lingers.

While the topography of Vernon may look similar to surrounding cities – which don't have the same issues with dust – Orchard says Vernon sits in a bowl in the valley. This position, mixed with warm air that pulls the dust up into the atmosphere, combined with very still calm days creates the dusty haze.

The dust warning in place today, March 18, shows Vernon at 110.3 micrograms per cubic metre. Kelowna is at 28 µg/m3. The province generally issues warning when levels are higher than 50 µg/m3.

The province says the dust situation is expected to persist until there is precipitation. Environment Canada says there is a 40 per cent chance of showers this evening in Vernon.

The health impacts from dust are plenty and the province advises that exposure is particularly a concern for pregnant women, infants, and older adults, along with those who have asthma, COPD, heart disease, diabetes or respiratory infections such as COVID-19.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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