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How our Air Quality is being Monitored

Air quality monitoring in British Columbia is conducted by the provincial government, Metro Vancouver, and industry (where required by permit) in cooperation with Environment Canada and regional districts. There are approximately 150 air quality monitoring stations throughout British Columbia.  

Prince George has several continious ambient air quality monitoring stations located in the community that monitor for key pollutants; as well as non-continuous monitoring programs (for pollutants such as Volatile Organic Compounds); and has used mobile monitors for special studies (E.g. Residential Wood Heating Study, 2011). 

How to Look at Monitoring Data

1. Real-time Data: To view real-time air quality data collected from the continous stations at it is reported (every hour), visit: http://www.bcairquality.ca/index.html. Click on the map on the right-hand side of the homepage; on the map, click on 'Prince George', then on a specific monitoring station such as 'PRG Plaza 

400'.  

This will provide the latest available readings for each pollutant, as well as other parameters such as temperature and wind speed.  A graph of readings for the past 24 hours and past 5 days is available by clicking the pollutant name in the box on the righthand side.  *If you have trouble viewing the interactive map, ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed*

2. Air Quality Health Index:  The data for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are formulated into an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), an easy scale from 1 to 10 designed to help you understand what the current air quality around you means to your health. Visit bcairquality.ca to view the current and forecast AQHI for Prince George and other BC communities. AQHI values are shown by clicking on the map to the right, and health messages found by clicking on the station name. The AQHI is a national index that uses the same calculation formula for communities across the country. See here for more information on the AQHI. 

3. Historical Data: To view or download historical air quality data for Prince George, visit the BC Air Data Archive Website.  Summarized historical data for our airshed is also available through a number of reports, availabe in our Resources and Reports section. Data and national summaries for other pollutants (e.g. VOC's) that are periodically monitored (noncontinuous stations) are available for download through Environment Canada's NAPS website

New Monitoring Instruments for Fine Particulates (2014)

BC has recently rolled out new monitoring instruments for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) across the province.  The new FEM (Federal Equivalent Method) instruments provide a more complete picture of the microscopic particles in the air.  But the more complete picture means the numbers will go up. Prince George's monitors were upgraded in late 2013, and one full year of co-located data was collected for 2014, to compare the old and new monitoring instruments. 

In colder climates like Prince George, the largest differences between FEM and older TEOM (Thermo Scientific Ambient Particulate Monitor) measurements are expected in winter, during cold periods when wood smoke is prevalent. These differences will be better understood with ongoing collection of more data. 

See this Infographic that helps explain the new changes to BC's fine particulate matter monitoring instruments. 

Frequently Asked Questions - New PM2.5 Monitors:

Q: What is PM2.5?

A: PM2.5, or fine particulate matter, refers to microscopic solid and liquid particles that are 2.5 micrometres or smaller in diameter – about 1/30th the width of a human hair. Fine particulate matter is considered the most important outdoor air pollutant in B.C. from a public health perspective.

Q: What is being changed in the way we monitor PM2.5, and why?

A: B.C. has brought in new air quality monitors to monitor PM2.5 in real time. The old monitors heat the air sample to remove moisture. Heating the air causes part of the sample to evaporate, which results in a lower PM2.5 measurement. The new monitors provide a more complete measure of PM2.5 by accounting for the particulate matter that wasn’t being measured by the older instruments due to evaporation.

Q: Does this mean that PM2.5 measurements will increase with the new monitors and, if so, by how much?

A: Testing to date suggests that PM2.5 measurements may increase with the new monitors, but the amount will vary from site to site, depending on the type of particulate matter present and the local temperature. The largest differences are expected in colder areas of B.C. where wood smoke is prevalent. These differences will be better understood with the ongoing collection of more data.

Q: What are other jurisdictions doing?

A: The new FEM (Federal Equivalent Method) monitors are the accepted standard in the United States and Canada. Jurisdictions across Canada are in the process of upgrading their monitoring networks, and Quebec has already made these changes.

Q: How did B.C. previously measure this pollutant?

A: BC has an extensive monitoring network that included over 40 TEOM monitors (Thermo Scientific Ambient Particulate Monitor) that provide hourly measurements in real time, and about 40 noncontinuous instruments that provide daily measurements every three to six days. Most locations in the province that were using the older monitors have now been upgraded with the new technology, subject to available resources and an assessment of local needs.

Q: Does this mean that the PM2.5 data collected from the older instruments is of no value?

A: No – the TEOMs were the first instrument that allowed us to monitor PM2.5 in real time. Prior to that, we could wait months to find out the concentrations on a particular day. The TEOMs have allowed us to use PM2.5 measurements to issue air quality advisories when air quality is poor, and to provide the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to the public, to show the level of potential health risk posed by current air quality.

Q: What B.C. communities or regions have the highest PM2.5 levels, and why?

A: The highest PM2.5 levels are typically observed in the interior of the province, in communities such as Quesnel, Golden, Grand Forks, Smithers and Prince George. This is due to a combination of factors that include a concentration of local woodburning and other sources in valley bottoms, and intermittent temperature inversions that temporarily trap pollutants in these valley bottoms.

Q: Where can I find the data from the new monitors?

A: Widescale reporting of data from the new monitors began in 2013, and most community's monitor upgrades have now been completed. This data is already being publicly reported on www.bcairquality.ca.  

Q: What are the main sources of PM2.5?

A: Sources of PM2.5 from human and natural activities in BC (Source: BC Ministry of Environment, 2005) include:

Collaboration on Monitoring in the Prince George Airshed

Our community has a special success story on air quality monitoring collaboration.  The Prince George Air Quality Monitoring Working Group (PGAQ MWG) is a collaboration between the provincial government, industry (permitted emitters), and the community (local governments and civil society). The MWG has been in existence since the 1980s, and because of it, Prince George has one of the most extensive monitoring networks of any community in BC.

The goals of the group are:

The group meets at least two times per year in the airshed to coordinate these activities, and operates with a consensus-based decision making process. 

For more information on the Monitoring Working Group, please contact the  (Fraser Basin Council).

 

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