More dust advisories in Vernon in past two months than last five years combined - InfoNews

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More dust advisories in Vernon in past two months than last five years combined

It's possible that large volumes of sand applied to local roads this winter is contributing to the dustier than normal conditions.
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March 23, 2017 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - If it seems like there’s been more dust advisories than normal in Vernon this year, well, there have been.

According to Environment Canada meteorologist Tarek Ayache, in the last five years there was only one other dust advisory issued in Vernon. That was in March of 2015.

So far in 2017, four dust advisories have been issued. The latest was lifted earlier this week. 

While it’s possible there may have been some gaps in monitoring over the years, Ayache says it is uncommon to have so many advisories in one year.

“Based on my experience, it seems to be unusual for one season,” Ayache says. 

He can’t say definitively what is causing the high particulate matter this year, but believes it likely has to do with road crews applying more sand on local roadways this winter due to the significant snowfall. 

It may seem odd then that neighbouring communities such as Lavington, Lake Country, Kelowna and Penticton have not had any advisories for dust this year, despite similar winter conditions. But, there’s likely an explanation for that too: In the Okanagan, there are only two stations that monitor this type of particulate matter (PM 10). There’s one at the Okanagan Science Centre in Vernon, and another in Kelowna.

Because Kelowna has a wider valley and a larger overall air shed, Ayache says dust typically disperses more and doesn’t cause the same air quality problems.

“Vernon is a more tight valley,” Ayache says.

Another factor is the location of the monitoring station. In Vernon, it’s located next to a busy road where vehicles tend to stir up a lot of dust.

While there is a new monitoring station in Lavington, it only measures PM 2.5 (wood smoke), not the larger dust particles that fall into the category of PM 10. Exposure to high levels of PM 10 is primarily a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have diabetes, and lung or heart disease, according to health authorities. 

Ayache admits it’s possible other communities in the region could, at times, be at levels beyond provincial air quality guidelines, but there is no way of knowing because they do not have monitoring stations.

“It’s a bit of a privilege to have a station,” Ayache says.

Not only are the stations expensive to buy and install, there is also the matter of regular maintenance, which presents a human resources challenge.

“We wish we could have more monitoring stations,” Ayache says. “We try to choose carefully those communities where we believe there’s potential for air quality problems.”

Of all the Okanagan communities, Ayache says Penticton is next on the list to get a monitoring station.

Dust is usually a localized problem, Ayache says, and just because levels are high in Vernon, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are high in outlying communities, like Lavington. In fact, he says it’s doubtful because smaller communities tend to have less traffic stirring up dust.

Vernon’s monitoring station has been up and running since 2002. No records were immediately available for the number of dust advisories issued prior to 2012. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston 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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