Ground-level ozone leads to heavy breathing in the Fraser Valley

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      The Fraser Valley’s long-time air-quality crusader says she is convinced the amount of ground-level ozone in her region is going up.

      “The levels in the valley, and particularly the eastern Fraser Valley, are increasing,” Patricia Ross, six-term Abbotsford city councillor and chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Not to be confused with the ozone in the atmosphere, ground-level ozone is a powerful and irritating pollutant that can cause lung damage and harm agricultural crops, according to the B.C. Lung Association. As the warmer weather arrives, the sunlight hits these pollutants—specifically sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons—and creates several chemical reactions that lead to a toxic smog.

      Ross said Metro Vancouver’s positive-sounding on-line information does not take into account her belief that the pollutant is increasing yearly. Front and centre in its on-line air-quality section, the site claims, “For most common contaminants, our air quality is better than it was 20 years ago.”

      “The GVRD [Metro Vancouver] doesn’t talk about the fact that ozone levels are actually increasing in the Fraser Valley and the high-ozone-level episodes are becoming more frequent in the Fraser Valley,” Ross said. “So, like I said, they are basing it on annual averages, which waters down the real problems, and what we really experience out here in the Fraser Valley. So it’s very frustrating for us when we hear that. Sure, some pollutants have decreased, and in some ways it’s getting better. But when it comes to ozone, it is getting worse and the episodes are becoming more frequent for us.”

      Ross cited the B.C. Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2008” report based on 2007 pollution levels. “The highest short-term concentrations, as represented by the CWS (Canada Wide Standard), are measured in the eastern Lower Fraser Valley at sites in Chilliwack and Hope during hot, sunny and stagnant weather,” the report says.

      The same criteria in 2006 showed that Hope was above the standard, set at 65 parts per billion, and Chilliwack equalled that standard that year.

      Michael Brauer, environmental-health professor at UBC, told the Straight he agreed with Ross’s analysis.

      “There haven’t actually been more studies done more recently, but studies that we did several years ago—[showing] that on days of higher air pollution we see more deaths in the region—ozone’s probably the big driver for that,” Brauer said by phone from Boston. “That’s an issue. We did studies years ago, looking at lung function in the Fraser Valley, and we saw that impact. There’s also been some work done across North America showing ozone levels in cities—if you live in an area of a city that has higher levels of air pollution, you are more likely to die prematurely. Which is somewhat new.”

      Aside from the science, Ross said Fraser Valley residents don’t know how bad the ozone problem is because, she claimed, there is a poor monitoring system in her district.

      “Throughout the whole Lower Mainland there are 28 monitoring stations,” Ross said. “Twenty-five of them are in Metro Vancouver. We only have three of them in the whole of the Fraser Valley, and yet this is where the pollution ends up because of the wind flow.”

      Ross suggested that Metro Vancouver “isn’t interested in redistributing its 25 to make things a little more fair”.

      Roger Quan, Metro Vancouver’s air quality–planning division manager, told the Straight he is aware of ozone issues facing the Fraser Valley. He said that a consultant’s report commissioned in 2007 recommended that “Metro Vancouver and the FVRD consider locating up to three new ozone-monitoring sites in the eastern Lower Fraser Valley”. Currently, there are two in Abbotsford, one in Chilliwack, and one in Hope.

      “FVRD staff were part of this and certainly their staff supported this for obvious reasons,” Quan said. “We’re all in agreement that we need more monitoring out there. I’ll tell you what it comes down to is a question of cost.”

      Quan said three new stations will cost close to $500,000. As part of an agreement with FVRD, Metro operates the monitoring stations in both jurisdictions and receives a fee from the FVRD every year. He said Metro would continue to operate any new stations in the FVRD but could not fund them. The FVRD has applied to the provincial government for the funding, Quan said.

      Bob Smith, air-quality consultant at FVRD, told the Straight negotiations are ongoing with the provincial environment ministry and that he expected the valley would see “money or equipment provision” to help that region more thoroughly monitor its air quality.