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Possible causes of poor air quality under investigation in Lavington

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January 06, 2017 - 11:30 AM

LAVINGTON - Environment officials are looking for possible causes of poor air quality in Lavington, although weather and the use of wood stoves are driving factors.

Tarek Ayache, an air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of Environment, says the advisory issued yesterday, Jan. 5, for high particulate matter in Lavington is “a bit out of the ordinary.”

“Last year, we did not issue any advisories in Lavington,” he says.

Air monitoring only started in the community in November 2015 when a station was put in at the Lavington Baptist Church, so comparisons are not available for previous years. The monitoring station was installed following the construction of the Pinnacle Renewable Energies pellet plant, which local residents feared would lead to poor air pollution.

According to Tarek, the time of year and current cold weather conditions are likely playing a role in the high levels of particulate matter. Records indicate levels of 27 micrograms per cubic meter, which exceed the acceptable level of 25 micrograms.

“At this time of year there are more seasonal sources in terms of the wood stoves people use for heating. There are more emissions, and the air tends to be more cold and stagnant,” Tarek says.

Environment officials are also investigating the possibility of additional sources of smoke in the area that may have contributed to the spike.

“If you have open burning on a large scale emitting a lot of smoke, that would be one example. Or, if there’s an incident with one of the industrial sources, that would be another example. If you have a heavy source of smoke in the area, that would be the main contributor to the fine particulate matter,” Tarek says.

So far, there is no conclusive information, Tarek says, but the ministry has been in touch with industrial stakeholders in the area to find out if anything unusual is going on.

“We’re working hard to determine any specific causes that led to this air quality advisory, but the weather conditions are certainly one element at this time of year,” Tarek says.

Pinnacle Renewable Energies president Leroy Reitsma says nothing unusual has happened at the pellet plant, but they have taken steps to mitigate emissions in response to the advisory.

“We’ve recognized there’s an advisory right now and under our episode management plan, what we then do is we focus on trying to run the driest material possible to reduce the amount of evaporation,” Reitsma says.

He says ongoing testing at the plant indicates the facility is operating below maximum permitted levels.

Michael Towers, Tolko’s manager of energy and environment, says there’s been nothing out of the ordinary at the nearby planer mill that would have caused the advisory either. He says mill workers have been advised to review activities and make sure there are no extraneous emissions in light of the advisory.

“So, anything not essential to keeping the facility up and running,” Towers says.

He says workers have also increased inspection on a debris pile that caught fire Dec. 17. Snow is being applied to the pile to ensure it doesn’t flare up again, Towers says. Right now, he says the only thing rising off the pile is steam, not particulates.

“The guys have been diligent about making sure there’s no fire activity out there,” he says.

He says the high levels are most likely related to the cold weather and stagnant air in the valley.

“Hopefully the weather changes and clears the air out and we get the air quality back down into good levels,” Towers says.

A representative from the group Lavington Is For Everyone — which has been outspoken about the pellet plant — declined to comment. 

According to Tarek, a weather system is expected to move into the region late Friday and early Saturday that may improve the air conditions. Precipitation or wind is what’s needed to improve the situation.

“Hopefully there’s some relief coming today or tomorrow,” Tarek says.

More information on the air quality alert can be found here. 

— This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. Jan. 6, 2016 to add a comment from Tolko Industries. 


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