Most days, air quality in the PAMZ region is good. But we do have air quality issues that require management.
Alberta is part of a national Air Quality Management System. It is a collaborative approach to reduce air pollution in Canada, contributing to improved human and environmental health. This system uses the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Objectives (CAAQS) as standards for air quality management across the country.
In 2013, Alberta Environment and Parks, in partnership with PAMZ and other regional stakeholders, initiated the Red Deer Fine Particulate Matter Response when air quality at the Red Deer Riverside air monitoring station exceeded national standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is a pollutant of particular concern because it is linked to a variety of cardiac and respiratory diseases, and affects plant, soil and water health.
In 2006, when levels of ozone in the region exceeded the Canada Wide Standards (CWS), the predecessor to the CAAQS, PAMZ led the development and implementation of an Ozone Management Plan. The plan’s with actions sought to reduce ozone levels so as not to exceed national standards in the future. Ozone is also a pollutant linked to adverse human health and environmental effects.
These plans start to address air quality issues in the region. But the CAAQS will become more stringent in coming years and it will be challenging for Alberta’s air zones and Canada as a whole to meet the standards. If we want to keep our air quality good, we can’t take it for granted.
What is fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and where does it come from?
Fine particulate matter are tiny airborne particles, about 1/20th the width of a human hair. Most of the fine particulate matter in Red Deer is caused by chemical reactions of other pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds emitted from vehicles. The results of the chemical reactions are tiny toxic particles. Forest fires can also be a source of fine particulate matter.
Most of the time our climate and geography allows this pollution to be distributed at low levels over a wide area. However on cold winter days when we experience persistent temperature inversions, it's like putting a lid on the pollution: it gets trapped. This can result in levels of fine particulate matter that exceed national standards.
Why is fine particulate matter a concern?
These particles are so small that they can get deep into lungs, which can:
- Irritate the respiratory system;
- Compromise oxygen exchange;
- Transfer toxic compounds into the bloodstream.
Fine particulate matter is recognized as a health and environmental concern by:
What is being done about it?
- Creation of Red Deer Fine Particulate Matter Response by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) and implementation of recommended actions by AEP and their partners, including PAMZ;
- Enhanced monitoring of the composition and sources of fine particulate matter by Alberta Environment and Parks and airsheds including PAMZ;
- Continued implementation and increased stringency of the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Objectives (CAAQS).
Ozone Management Plan
What is ozone and where does it come from?
Ozone (O3) is a colourless gas. In the earth's atmosphere, ozone plays an important role in shielding the earth from harmful rays from the sun. However, at ground level it is primarily a human produced pollutant which contributes to the creation of smog.
Ground level ozone is created when other pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight under stagnant weather conditions. Nitrogen oxides are produced by combustion from vehicles, trains, gas burning lawn and farm equipment and home heating, as well as from industrial sources such as oil and gas, and power plants. VOCs can come from petroleum and chemical industries, vehicle emissions, fireplaces, natural gas emissions and aircraft traffic.
Why is ozone a concern?
Ground level ozone at high concentrations has detrimental effects on human and animal health, and the environment. It can:
- Reduce lung function, cause chest tightness, coughing or wheezing;
- Aggravate existing respiratory illness, and irritate eyes, nose and throat;
- Chronic exposure can cause permanent damage to the alveoli of the lungs;
- Reduce crop yields and plant growth, and contribute to noticeable leaf damage.