Courtenay, BC plans to install air quality monitors in public spaces
The city of Courtenay, BC, located in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, launched an air quality awareness campaign on Tuesday and plans to install air quality monitoring devices in some public places throughout the community.
According to Jeannienne Tazzioli, manager of engineering and environmental projects at Courtenay, data collected by the province showed that smoke was seen in the region above average.
“The province told us that we’re seeing some spikes in something called PM2.5, which is particulate matter,” she said On the island host Gregor Craigie on Wednesday.
“Our main concern is the health impact.”
A explainer on the city’s website says exposure to wood smoke can worsen conditions like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and reduce lung function.
Tazzioli adds that continued exposure can have more serious long-term effects.
“Mild side effects might be things people are familiar with sitting around a campfire: irritated eyes and throat, headache, maybe some respiratory problems,” she said.
“There are also more serious diseases: increased risk of heart attack and stroke, reduced lung function, premature death.”
The aim is to understand the problem, to find solutions: city managers
The main source of wood smoke at Courtenay is the use of wood burning appliances, says Tazzioli.
The awareness campaign aims to educate locals about the effects of fine particulate matter in the air, how smoke can be reduced, and the associated by-laws and rebates for wood-fired heater replacement.
“We see a spike every night. But the smoke clears in the morning and afternoon,” Tazzioli said.
“In some cases, residents may not be aware of the air quality issue because you can’t see it at night — the smoke is invisible.”
The city plans to install 10 surveillance devices on-site and suggests placing them in public schools and community-owned buildings.
The monitors require electricity and Wi-Fi, allowing real-time data to be shared online, with measurements updated hourly.
While the BC government is already monitoring air quality across the province, Tazzioli says the city’s devices will give the city a clearer picture of what’s happening locally.
“Provincial reporting doesn’t necessarily represent everyone’s experience,” she said.
“By installing monitors in different neighborhoods of the city, we get consistent coverage and can better understand which areas have higher concentrations than others.”
She says city officials are particularly concerned about children’s health and want to know if they are exposed to harmful levels of particulate matter in school neighborhoods.
Ultimately, she says, the goal is to better understand the problem and find solutions — understanding that some people have no choice but to rely on burning wood to heat their homes.
“We all need to stay warm and we all need clean air,” she said.