Ministry of Environment Sets Record Straight on Comox Valley Air Quality

March 1, 2017

A recent report published in the Guardian newspaper erroneously targeted Courtenay, B.C. as having the second-worst air quality in the U.S. and Canada. The Province of British Columbia has now provided data that refutes this report. Ministry of Environment local air quality monitoring results show that the World Health Organization (WHO) data referenced in the Guardian story was faulty.

 “Air quality is extremely important to the well-being of every community, and I am glad that the City of Courtenay and the Ministry of Environment worked quickly to resolve this error to ensure accurate reporting for the citizens of our community,” said Comox Valley MLA Don McRae.   

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula says it is unfortunate that the city was unfairly targeted by the Guardian report. “We received a lot of inquiries from concerned citizens when this story came out,” advised Jangula. “Many of us were simply baffled by the original report. While we have had occasional air quality advisories in the community, it was simply incomprehensible that our air quality could be considered the worst in Canada. This corrected data shows that our air quality is in line with many other communities in the province."

The WHO database incorrectly reports the annual average fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration for Courtenay in 2013 as 17 µg  m-3 (micrograms per cubic meter). In fact, the correct number for 2013 was 11.4 µg m-3.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has requested that the WHO rectify this error.

While Courtenay’s fine particulate matter concentrations for 2014 and 2015 were slightly higher than provincial objectives, they were lower than both Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standard (CAAQS) and WHO standards.    

Analysis by the Ministry of Environment and other research indicates that wood smoke from wood stoves and outdoor open burning is a significant contributor to PM2.5 levels in several British Columbia communities, including the Comox Valley. Open burning has been banned in the City of Courtenay since 2008.

Mayor Jangula believes it would be beneficial to have additional air quality monitoring in other parts of the community. “Right now, Courtenay has one permanent monitoring station at Courtenay Elementary, and it’s just common sense that this monitor could potentially be affected by things such as wood stoves in the immediate area,” said Jangula. “Additional monitors would provide a more thorough understanding of air quality throughout the Comox Valley.”

The city is working closely with the province and other local jurisdictions on ways to improve air quality in the region. Real time air quality information is available at

Background Information from the Ministry of Environment:

  • The Ministry of Environment (MoE) has a continuous monitoring station at Courtenay Elementary School. The following pollutants are measured continuously using state-of-the-art monitors: fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). Air quality data are available in real-time at
  • In Aug 2016, MoE also initiated surveillance monitoring in Cumberland using a portable monitor located at the Fire Hall
  • The annual mean PM2.5  concentration at Courtenay Elementary site was 8.6, 9.2, 11.4 and 9.2 µgm-3 in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2011 respectively. Provincial annual objective is 8 µg m-3; and the pertinent Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standard (CAAQS), as well as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline value is 10 µg m-3.
  • Recent media stories have claimed that the air quality in Courtenay is second worst in the US and Canada. These stories are based on faulty data obtained from a WHO database. In this database the annual average PM2.5  concentration for Courtenay for 2013 is incorrectly reported as 17 µg  m-3; the correct number for 2013 is 11.4 µg m-3. Environment and Climate Change Canada has requested WHO to rectify this error.
  • The measured PM2.5 concentrations for 2014 and 2015 are slightly higher than the provincial objective but still lower compared to CAAQS or WHO guideline value.
  • PM2.5  concentrations in Port Alberni, Houston, Quesnel, Vanderhoof, Port Alberni were slightly higher compared to Comox Valley in 2015. The provincial PM2.5  objective is exceeded at about 25% of monitoring sites.
  • MoE is working with Comox Valley Regional District to improve air Quality in Comox Valley. MoE co-funded an emissions inventory for Comox Valley and MoE funded a BC CDC provincial study on PM2.5. These projects are helping us identify the scope of wood smoke problem.
  • Our analysis and the research conducted by BC CDC and Health Canada show that wood smoke (during winters) is a major factor driving higher PM2.5  levels in several BC communities including Comox Valley. There are two common sources of wood smoke: wood stoves and open burning. Wood stoves play an important role in terms of exposure because of the fact that smoke is released very close to where people are.