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A breath of fresh air - cough, choke, gag.....

Mona Mattei, Editor

Two very interesting conversations happened at the Grand Forks city council meeting on Monday on air quality issues that have grave impact on our community.

First, a report about a proposed bylaw that would restrict the use of wood burning appliances, and penalize anyone using non-essential wood burning during an air quality advisory alert was prevented from moving forward to the regular meeting to be voted on. Councillors opposed the suggested bylaw rationalizing that some residents would not be able to respond to the advisories and could be penalized without knowing they had contravened the bylaw. In addition, low income residents who rely on wood burning appliances would also be unjustly penalized. Councillor Chris Moslin assured the community that he will be revising and re-presenting the proposal in six months, the next possible time that he can bring it forward. In the meantime, the core of winter wood-fuel burning will be done and we will have been exposed to high density wood smoke for several months.

The second item was in Moslin's report. He advised the council that Roxul Inc. has realized that the new stack system they installed to improve emissions has not worked as anticipated. As a result, Roxul is splitting their emissions between the two stacks at the plant in hopes that it will improve their impact on air quality. Yes, we have been smelling their emissions for the last few months.

While on the surface it appears that our community is interested in improving our air quality, there is a defined lack of decisive action.

The air quality committee has been in place for several years and has accomplished some important groundwork as well as establishing a working group. Data on their webpage says that information will be updated daily, but the most recent airshed information is dated Jan. 23, year unknown. If an advisory were to be issued, the resources must be in place to actually follow the data and be able to respond to the immediate publication in many forms of an advisory to be certain the public can respond in kind. 

But more importantly, we as residents, need to be held responsible for our behaviour. Bans on wood burning appliances have been instituted in many communities where the air quality is faced with far less problems than ours. The air shed modeling and particulate evaluations done by the consultants for our committee have shown that wood burning is a large contributor to the poor quality of our air, especially in the winter. While we are all reluctant to be burdened with the cost of change, our health needs to be worth it. The woodstove programs across the Boundary are making it easier for people to switch over, but it still encourages burning. 

The situation at Roxul indicates that they are still working to minimize emissions, although the type of emissions they are producing is another conversation. Industry is a part of the problem. But open burning, wood burning appliances, and the unrestricted regional area all lend itself to continued problems for our health.

No one wants the problem. It's time that we support the air quality committee with the resources to get the job done, and stand behind their recommendations. It is time to stop waffling and take decisive action to improve our valley's air.