One word about Metro Vancouver air quality today: Gasp!

Air quality east fr Vancouver Harbour 13-Sept-2013, 10-30am

(Updated – with comment and graph from  Environment Canada, Pacific and Yukon Region. See below.) Anyone looking or moving around outside today, September 13, 2013, would notice the poor air quality on this particular day in Metro Vancouver. You can see it. You can smell it. You can taste it. What’s it all about? Where can you get real-time pictures and data about air quality? What are the main sources of air pollution in the region? And what citizens can do to improve air quality (with many benefits, including our health)?

First of all, national, provincial, and regional governments have a vast amount of information available. This is probably a good use of tax money. Let’s use the tools available.

The Clear Air BC website provides hourly-updated photos showing air quality in Abbotsford, Burnaby, Chilliwack, Lions Bay, Pitt Meadows, and Vancouver Harbour (example at top of this post). It is supported by Government of Canada, Metro Vancouver, Government of British Columbia, and Fraser Valley Regional District.

Metro Vancouver has a nifty interactive GIS map showing hourly readings at air quality monitoring sites. Click on any one of nearly 30 monitoring stations.

Health impacts?
Microscopic air pollution particles can penetrate into the lungs and have been linked to respiratory and cardiac disease. Wikipedia provides a summary of the health effects of air pollution. Warning: It’s nasty.

What is air pollution?
Common forms are nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3) or very small particles, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Sources of air pollution?
This chart on Clear Air BC shows sources of the 147,693 tonnes of smog-forming emissions generated in the Lower Fraser Valley in 2005.


Air pollution is related to economic activity. Many road and building projects are currently underway in the Lower Mainland today. At just one tower construction site in Vancouver’s West End (1061 Broughton) required 70 cement truck deliveries and two large concrete boom pump trucks running all day at just one site yesterday (Sept. 12, 2013).

Everyone needs to work to improve air quality. Governments at three levels. Citizens. And industry.

Here are some action tips for citizens to improve visual air quality, summarized from the Clean Air BC site.

  1. Drive less.
  2. Avoid idling.
  3. Get regular tune-ups.
  4. Consider a cleaner vehicle.
  5. Avoid using gas-powered tools.
  6. If you use wood for fuel, use it wisely.
  7. Consider a switch (e.g., for a new stove or heating appliance, choose cleaner alternatives).
  8. Say “no” to backyard burning.
  9. Participate in BC’s “Scrap It” Program to get older vehicles off the road.
  10. Get involved. Join or create a local air quality management group to work with your local government to improve air quality in your community.

Source: BC Air Action Plan

Other information sources

BC Air Quality
Provincial government website with much information about regulations and issues.

 Annual Air Quality Report
Metro Vancouver publishes an annual report summarizing data from the Lower Fraser Valley Air Quality Network.

Webcams showed hazy conditions in Vancouver Harbor and other locations in Metro Vancouver the Lower Fraser Valley during the latter part of last week. This was due to a combination of high relative humidities, resulting from incoming marine air and moderate levels of fine particulate matter averaging around 10 ug/m3. Moderate levels of fine particulate matter resulted from warm and sunny weather  last  week, which enhanced pollutant production, and  stagnant air at the surface,which limited pollutant dispersion.  Levels of PM2.5 in the airshed were below air quality standards and objectives, but contributed to Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) readings of Moderate on September 12  in some parts of the greater Vancouver, including the northwest.  The plot below shows the AQHI readings in NW Vancouver last week showing a gradual increase toSeptember 12. The AQHI has now dropped to Low with the arrival of more marine air and rain over the weekend. For more information on the air quality health index see

Environment Canada air quality Vancouver 13-Sept-2013

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