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Vernon News

Vernon's new dust monitors fail to monitor dust

The street sweeper is seen in Vernon, March 10, 2023.

The City of Vernon has spent $12,000 on dust monitoring sensors that don't work.

The City purchased the sensors in 2021 as part of a wider effort to mitigate the City's dust issues. However, city staff have confirmed the seven sensors that cost $12,090 altogether don't monitor dust properly.

"Unfortunately, the monitors have not provided equivalent data to that produced by the Ministry’s monitoring system because the technology is quite different, so they cannot be properly compared to one another," City of Vernon spokesperson Christy Poirier said in an email.

As to why the City spent $12,000 on monitors that don't work is less clear.

The City said the Ministry of Environment monitors cost roughly $50,000 and staff saw "value in the potential" of these far cheaper meters.

"Staff continue to work with the provider to search for improvements and the monitors test for other parameters that are not related to dust advisories," Poirier said. "However, staff continue to use the monitors for snow and ice control to monitor conditions related to temperature and humidity throughout the city."

What is out on the street is the City's vacuum street sweeper, purchased in 2021 for $350,000, albeit with a $150,000 annual operation and maintenance cost.

The City said the vacuum sweeper can only be used when the temperature is above zero, but it's been out and about for more than two weeks.

While the City is trying to mitigate the effect the dust is having on the City – it uses road grit designed to cause less dust – Vernon's location, and the topography surrounding, it is the reason for the poor air quality.

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Ministry of Environment air quality meteorologist Trina Orchard previously said that Vernon sits in a bowl in a valley and this position, mixed with warm air that pulls the dust up into the atmosphere, combined with very still calm weather creates the dusty haze.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy issued a dust advisory today, March 17, because of high concentrations of coarse particulate matter. The dust advisory is expected to stay in place until it rains.

The advisory says Vernon is at 65.65 micrograms per cubic metre. Kelowna sits at 39.46 µg/m3.

The province generally issues warnings when levels are higher than 50 µg/m3.

So far this year Vernon dust levels have been above 50 µg/m3 for seven days in total.

READ MORE: Parents frustrated as Vernon daycare announces closure

Health impacts from dust exposure are a concern for individuals with asthma, COPD, heart disease, and diabetes; respiratory infections such as COVID-19, pregnant women, infants, and older adults.

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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