Our community often experiences poor air quality during winter evenings, when wood burning appliances are used to keep warm. Our atmosphere can trap smoke near the ground, further reducing air quality.
Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and other harmful pollutants.
Exposure to wood smoke can worsen conditions like asthma or COPD, reduce lung function, and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. It can also cause lower birthweights, ear and respiratory infections in children, and shortened lifespans.
Here's how the City of Courtenay is addressing air quality concerns:
Air quality monitors
We're contributing to the local air monitoring network by installing PM2.5 air monitoring devices in 2023 to help our community become more informed, and identify which areas may need more support to improve air quality.
We've updated the Prevention of Public Nuisance Bylaw to regulate smoke that is causing a nuisance, with a goal of voluntary compliance over enforcement.
You can help improve our air. Heat your home with a cleaner heat source and save wood burning appliances for power outages or extreme weather.
Explore the following resources to learn more about wood smoke impacts and solutions.
Does Courtenay have an air quality issue?
Yes, during winter evenings and periods of wildfire smoke.
Air quality is measured year-round at the provincial air monitoring station located at Courtenay Elementary. Measurements are compared against the BC Air Quality Objectives, which specify the maximum allowable concentration of pollutants.
Measurements of fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, exceed the BC Air Quality Objectives on multiple days per year. Hourly measurements indicate PM2.5 is highest during winter evenings and periods of wildfire smoke.
Image source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
What is fine particulate matter (PM2.5)?
PM2.5 is the scientific name for miniscule particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (a micrometer is a millimeter, divided into a thousand!) Measuring about 20x smaller than a human hair, they are small enough to inhale, travel through our bloodstream, and seep through cracks in buildings even when the doors and windows are closed.
Research suggests that there is no safe level of PM2.5. Exposures to PM2.5 can negatively impact the heart and lungs and can lead to health issues such as asthma symptoms, chronic bronchitis, and heart attacks. Exposure to PM2.5 is also linked to increased emergency room visits and hospitalization for respiratory and cardiovascular problems, as well as an increased risk of premature death.
- Health Canada: Information on air emissions levels and sources
- Province of BC: Common air pollutants
Where is PM2.5 coming from?
The primary source of PM2.5 in the City of Courtenay is wood burning appliances.
Air quality measurements of PM2.5 consistently spike in winter evenings, and the timing aligns with use of residential wood burning appliances. Wood burning appliances that operate frequently have the greatest impact on local air quality. Since wood burning appliances are commonly used after dark, the smoke is not visible, and we can’t see the impact on air quality.
During the summer, PM2.5 from wildfires may migrate into the area causing poor air quality. Wildfire smoke causes a visible haze, and the impact is easy to see. The impact of wildfires is limited to a few days in an average year, whereas the impact of wood burning appliances spans many months every winter.
Outside the municipal boundary, provincially regulated open burning, including land clearing and slash burns are a significant source of PM2.5. The BC Ministry of Environment conducted a particulate matter inventory for the Comox Valley region in 2015.