The fact that communities in the Cowichan Valley are among the 20 worst in the province for air quality, according to the BC Lung Association’s 2016 state of the air report, has led to funding to help deal with the issue.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District will receive $15,000 from the Healthy Communities Capacity Building Fund that will be used to support learning, build partnerships, and take actions to enhance air quality in the region.
The initiative, known as PlanH, is a partnership between BC Healthy Communities Society and Healthy Families BC.
“Air quality is a problem that involves many players and has broad impacts across vulnerable groups in the Cowichan Valley,” said Jon Lefebure, chairman of the CVRD.
“The grant money from PlanH will help the region develop a deeper understanding of the problems, and work together to explore community change for an issue that has deep roots in our history and culture.”
In the Cowichan region, air quality is often good through the summer but can be poor during the winter because of fine particulate matter, primarily from open burning and woodstove use.
The geography of the Valley, which is ringed by mountains, means bad air is often held at ground level at certain times of the year, according to a report released by the CVRD last year.
Island Health has reported that admission rates for children with respiratory diseases in the Cowichan Local Health Area averaged 70 per cent higher than provincial rates for the period 1998 to 2012.
As well, the proportion of people aged five to 54 diagnosed with asthma was 14 per cent higher in the CVRD than the province in 2012, and the prevalence of chronic-respiratory illnesses for people 45 and over was 50 per cent higher than the province.
Open burning accounts for approximately 53 per cent of the total particulate matter in the Valley, wood-burning appliances account for 23 per cent, and the remaining 24 per cent is mostly from vehicles and industrial pollution.
Lefebure said local governments and partnering organizations are well positioned to support healthy communities through initiatives such as Cowichan’s Regional Airshed Protection Strategy; forming a collaborative roundtable; and exploring alternatives to older wood burning appliances and open burning.
For more information on the air quality problem, airshed protection, current conditions and best practices, visit www.cvrd.bc.ca/air.