Managing air quality in the CVRD

Editor’s Note: This article is the final in a series the Citizen will be publishing in partnership with the provincial Ministry of the Environment and the Cowichan Valley Regional District about the importance of clean air the effects of pollution.

The cost of air pollution-related deaths and illnesses in British Columbia could be just over $1.1 billion in 2015, according to the Canadian Medical Association.

They predict 375 premature deaths, and lost productivity, healthcare costs and reduced quality of life due to 1,370 hospital admissions, 10,370 emergency room visits, 71,970 doctor’s office visits, and 2.7 million minor illnesses. If pollution levels stay the same, by 2031 the costs could reach $1.6 billion, reflecting our aging population.

Predicted health impacts and financial costs can be reduced if air quality is improved.

AQBAT, the Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool used by Health Canada, includes cost factors developed from a number studies on the health effects of air pollution. When these factors are applied to the Cowichan Valley Regional District, decreasing daily average fine particulate (PM2.5) levels just by one microgram per cubic meter over the long term could reduce the number of cases of bronchitis, restricted activity days, emergency room visits and days with acute respiratory symptoms, for a savings of $1.7 million per year.

While these kinds of estimates make a lot of simple assumptions, the general level of impact is not insignificant.

Making a relatively small change in long-term air pollution levels is often not as simple as it sounds. Sometimes there are obvious places to start, like reducing industrial emissions or smoke from open and backyard burning, but most of the time, multiple sources produce the same pollutants.

To complicate things further, not all pollution is local. Regional and even global weather systems can bring pollutants from distant sources. Some sources are more effectively regulated at the national level while local actions are needed to bring further improvement.

For any given source or pollutant, there are often overlapping strategies, policies and regulations at local, regional, national and even international levels that contribute to air quality management. Take PM2.5 for example. International efforts take place under the Canada/U.S. Air Quality Agreement. Canada-wide standards provide common air quality targets for all provinces and territories. B.C. provincial air quality objectives complement the national standards, and various ministries collaborate in regional air quality plans. At the local level, there can be bylaws that apply to backyard and open burning, and programs that support upgrading/removing old woodstoves.

It takes a coordinated effort among all levels of government, industry and individuals to make long-lasting change. Having all these partners at the table is the best way to find solutions that build on existing air quality management initiatives while targeting local issues.

Local input during air quality management planning is critical, especially when individual actions are needed to make a difference. Community strategies that reflect residents’ views and willingness to act are a major factor in the ultimate success of any plan. Contact the CVRD for more information about ongoing air quality management initiatives and opportunities for getting involved.

For more information on airshed planning: Air Quality Management Plans: Clear the Air Cowichan website: aspx?NID=1469 CMA report (www.healthyenvironmentforkids. ca/resources/no-breathing-room-costs-of-airpollution)

Eleanor Setton is a research scientist at the University of Victoria. Contributions were also made by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the B.C. Ministry of Environment.