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Why this researcher needs your help to study air quality in Kamloops

An air quality monitor installed at Thompson Rivers University.
Image Credit: Contributed
September 23, 2016 - 6:30 PM

KAMLOOPS - A Thompson Rivers University professor is looking to the public to help monitor the city’s air quality.

Dr. Michael Mehta, a professor of environmental sciences, wants to place dozens of small air quality monitors around the city as part of his research. While people often think air quality around the city is relatively similar, he says it can vary wildly due to winds, geography and localized pollution.

Kamloops only has two air quality monitoring sites he says: one in Aberdeen and one near Riverside Park. Those two sites give no information about what’s happening in neighbourhoods like Brocklehurst, Westsyde or Valleyview, where Domtar, burning debris or vehicle pollution are likely to have a big effect.

While air quality has been a big issue locally due questions about the proposed Ajax Mine, Mehta says air quality is a much more localized issue.

“It would be significant for the people nearby, but it’s one element in the air shed,” he says. “Air pollution is hyper local.”

This is particularly true in Kamloops, with a unique geography. Winds, the rain shadow and elevation can have a strong effect on air in any given area, and quality across the entirity of the city's large area will vary quite a bit.

Non-industrial pollutants can have a much greater effect on a neighbourhood, especially for ones not near industrial sites. In fact, wood smoke from a wood stove or fire is much more toxic than most people think.

“People think it’s natural, we’ve been doing it a long time,” he says.

Instead, wood fire smoke was a common cause of death for human’s ancestors and continues to be more toxic than most expected types of air pollutants. A wood stove burning an average amount of wood for nine hours is the equivalent of driving a car 18,000 kilometres he says, and burning 10 lbs. of wood over an hour releases 4,300 times more carcinogenic chemicals than 30 cigarettes. If there’s a pit fire in a neighbourhood, Mehta says the neighbourhood could have a spike in air pollution making it worse than Beijing.

“I’ve been looking at this for years,” he says. “We know when people are exposed to wood smoke, stroke rates go up dramatically, asthma is exacerbated.”

Air quality is the number one planetary issue right now he says, and wood burning, be it from forest fires, land clearing or camping, is a big piece of that.

So far Mehta has installed a new monitor at TRU. He’s hoping to find locals interested in hosting air quality as well. Monitors cost $200 and need access to WiFi. All the data is collected in real time and available to the public on a website called Purple Air.

Mehta can be contacted at mmehta@tru.ca for more information on hosting a monitor.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brendan Kergin or call 250-819-6089 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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