Heavy smoke from B.C.’s wildfires took a toll on Metro Vancouver’s air quality last year, but a new report says improvements are continuing to be made against most smog-forming pollutants across the region.
In its seventh annual air quality report released Wednesday, Metro Vancouver said that while the unprecedented levels of wildfire smoke hindered air quality in 2017, long-term emission-reduction programs helped improve it.
During last summer’s wildfire season, five air quality advisories were issued in the Lower Mainland, totalling an unprecedented 19 days with an advisory in effect.
According to the report, the longest continuous period under an advisory was from Aug. 1 to 12, when levels of fine particulate matter were at an all-time high due to wildfire smoke. Advisories at the time indicated ground-level ozone also became elevated when weather reached its hottest temperatures.
While Metro Vancouver’s report did not speak to any specific long-term impacts of how wildfires will impact overall air quality, it does suggest that as more severe wildfires are forecasted to become a seasonal occurrence, the impacts on air in the region could too become more severe in the future.
Airshed data won’t be reviewed until 2020, as information on air pollutant and greenhouse gas levels across the Lower Mainland is compiled every five years.
Metro Vancouver’s extensive Air Quality Monitoring Network includes 29 monitoring stations that collect data from Horseshoe Bay to Hope every hour of the day, seven days a week. From data that is compiled annually, Metro Vancouver said it reached target goals for all contaminants last year.
In 2017, all air stations across Lower Mainland recorded less concentrations of sulphor than the annual goal.
Nitrogen dioxide concentrations were also better than target levels, even with near-road stations being more sensitive to traffic emissions.
Despite the air quality warnings issued in the summer, fine particulate matter reached low target levels at every Lower Mainland station with the exception of Hope.
Metro Vancouver reported in 2015 that due to residential wood burning, non-road engines, industrial sources and marine vessels, levels of fine particulate matter emissions still remain significant, despite a general decrease.
“Average trends for the region show improvements have been made over the last decade for most air contaminants, even while the region’s population has continued to grow,” Derek Corrigan, chair of Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee, said in a news release.
“Although our air quality is generally very good, we are committed to making improvements, however small, to tackle climate change and ensure our residents have clean air to breathe.”