Representing government, industry, UNBC, Northern Health, First Nations, the business community and the public, the Prince George Air Improvement Roundtable (PGAIR) was established in 1998 as a community-based non-profit society to address the city's air pollution problem.
In December 2010, PGAIR released a five-year modeling study which determined a 75 per cent reduction in all major sources of fine particulate matter, otherwise known as PM2.5, was needed to achieve the group's targeted goal of eliminating one-third of fine particulates in the city's airshed.
PM2.5 pollution poses the greatest health hazard for people because the smaller particles are more readily absorbed into the lungs. The group has been working with the city's pulp mills, the Husky oil refinery, sawmills and asphalt plants to find ways to take advantage of technology to reduce air pollution emissions. PGAIR has targeted reductions in PM2.5 emissions from restaurants, heating systems of commercial buildings, rail and heavy equipment exhaust, idling motorists at drive-throughs and parking lots, and is looking at how to reduce sources of dust, including road sand, gravel roads, and construction sites.
A report submitted to the Prince George Mayor's Task Force on Air Quality in 2007 indicated pulp mills are the largest industrial emitter of fine particulate matter in the city when comparing pulp mills, sawmills and oil refineries.
In 2011, Canfor took advantage of a $1 billion federal government green subsidy program to complete $150 million in upgrades to its Prince George Pulp and Paper, Intercon and Northwood mills to install filtering systems which have significantly reduced the total reduced sulphur (TRS) emissions that produce bad odours in the city. Canfor contributed $37 million of the cost of the pollution reduction projects, expected to eliminate noxious odour events in the city by 60 per cent.
The impact of the new scrubbers in reducing fine particle emissions was much smaller than the odour reductions. However, PGAIR research has determined Canfor's emissions from its three pulp mills account for only about 10 per cent of all fine particulate pollution in the city's airshed.
The city's asphalt plants, the refinery, sawmills and pellet manufacturers have also upgraded their pollution technology to reduce emissions. Until it was destroyed in a disastrous explosion and fire, the Lakeland Mills sawmill in the downtown area had made significant improvements in its PM2.5 emissions and started the district energy system, which continues to supply heat to city buildings from bioenergy sources.
To help ensure better air for Prince George residents, the provincial Ministry of the Environment in 2007 established a policy which specifies all new industrial plants in the city that emit significant levels of fine particulate emissions have to be located outside of the city's bowl area.
Clean Air Forum coming to town in March
PGAIR will host the North Central B.C. Clean Air Forum, March 6-7 at the Civic Centre, a gathering air quality managers, researchers, health professionals, educators, and representatives from the industrial, commercial, transportation, and public sectors.
The keynote speakers will be Dr. Sarah Henderson, an environmental health scientist for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, whose topic is Air Quality in the B.C. Boondocks; while Dr. Robert Oliphant, president and CEO of the Asthma Society of Canada, will speak about the effects of polluted air on community health.
A $50 fee is required to attend the two-day workshops, and registration is available at cleanairforum.eventbrite.ca, to be submitted by March 1. There will be a free information session open to the public on Wednesday, March 6 from 6-8 p.m. Go to pgairquality.com for more information or call 250-612-0252.