Differing reports on Red Deer air quality creating foggy picture

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
February 15, 2017 - 4:30pm Updated: February 15, 2017 - 6:56pm

The sky is not necessarily falling when it comes to Red Deer’s air quality.

In September 2015, Red Deer’s air was pegged by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips as the “worst in the province” after it failed to meet Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS) from 2009 to 2013.

Though 2016 numbers are yet to come in, Nancy Hackett, Environmental Initiatives Supervisor with the City of Red Deer, says the understanding is that things improved last year.

"We've heard preliminarily that we didn't exceed [in 2016], and that can be sometimes weather-related, because cold weather holds the particulate matter closer down in our community,” she says. “It could also be that we have less economic activity, so maybe less vehicles and less industry, or it could be that people's actions to drive less are making a difference, maybe all three."

The particulate matter Hackett refers to is also known as PM2.5, a measure of inhalable coarse particles in the air with a diameter between 2.5 and 10 micrometres.

The debate over whether Red Deer’s air is really that bad was addressed in a recent study led by University of Alberta Associate Professor Dr. Warren Kindzierski.

"The main message is that these trends have improved clearly. The other thing which cannot be demonstrated is that Red Deer's air quality is worse than Calgary and Edmonton,” Kindzierski told rdnewsNOW.

Meanwhile, Hackett says she sat through a webinar of Kindzierski’s last week during which he explained what he believes are the sources of Red Deer’s particle levels.

“He identified transportation as one of the top three sources of fine particulate matter in Red Deer, and that's been the type of action Red Deer has focused on. To me, that reinforced that those are important actions, providing regional transit service expanding our bus service, having carpooling, having our trail system, and encouraging people to drive less and walk more."

Kindzierski’s study, which he acknowledges uses a different methodology than what the Province is using, found vehicle emissions, combined with those from agricultural and industrial operations, make up nearly two-thirds of Red Deer’s PM2.5 levels.

"The data that we received and what we've been working on is that Red Deer exceeded the standards for 2015 and in previous years,” continues Hackett. “In 2014, the Province started an air quality response plan and we were invited to participate and so we've been participating with them in developing that response plan."

It just so happens that the City of Red Deer is five years into its 25-year Environmental Master Plan, which means a full review will be taking place this year.

"Air is one of seven focus areas of the Environmental Master Plan, and as we are refreshing it here in 2017, we'll be looking at air and what's changed in the last five years, what new actions we should add to the plan, and what does our citizen engagement group think?,” Hackett says. “Also, Red Deer is part of the provincial response plan and once you exceed the standards one time, even if you go back down below the standards, you still have to continue to work on your response plan."

Hackett says the City gets its numbers from the Province, which works in collaboration with the Parkland Airshed Management Zone (PAMZ).

"Like any science, there are different ways of interpreting data. Most days, air quality is going to be good in Red Deer, but we do have some days that exceed for a 24 hour period or longer or shorter lengths of time. So there may be some difference in how people read or interpret data, but we rely on the government of Alberta's data. We're a member of PAMZ and we trust they're providing the correct data."

While the sky may not be falling, Hackett adds Red Deerians should continue to be concerned about the quality of our shared air.

"Red Deerians want to have a healthy community and air is one of the factors in that. I hope Red Deerians are concerned about maintaining healthy air quality and that includes fine particulate matter and managing the source of fine particulate matter.”

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