Monitor location makes sense (letter to editor)

Original story from Nov. 25/16 Comox Valley Echo that our letter to the editor was responding to.

Original story from Nov. 25/16 Comox Valley Echo that our letter to the editor was responding to.

On Nov. 25th, the Comox Valley Echo reported on comments from CVRD Directors, Ken Grant and Larry Jangula (click on photo to read this original story). Our response (printed Dec. 2nd) is below.

Dear Editor,

I am writing to respond to two things discussed in the Echo’s Nov. 25th article on our poor air quality.

The first is about the location of the air monitor in the Comox Valley, a monitor that indicates we have some of the worst air quality in BC.

CVRD Directors Ken Grant and Mayor Larry Jangula expressed concern that the permanent air monitor set up at Courtenay Elementary was in a low-lying area, with older houses. Mr. Grant noted that if you put one in Crown Isle (where no wood stoves are allowed) or in his neighbourhood, the air quality readings would be much better.

Of course the readings would be much better in newer neighbourhoods. But for the thousands of residents who live, work or play in older neighbourhoods, the current readings represent what they (and the children at Courtenay Elementary) are breathing.

As Director Grant and Mayor Jangula know, the monitor’s location was based on an earlier mobile monitoring study. That study clearly showed that older residential areas in all three municipalities had more harmful fine particulates than other neighbourhoods. [see study’s maps]

One of these older areas was chosen by experts—not politicians—as the location for the air monitor. They were interested in identifying when poor air quality was putting thousands of people at risk and determined Courtenay Elementary would help them do just that. A second temporary monitor has been set up in Cumberland for the winter and a new mobile monitoring study will be done in early 2017.

Secondly, the article indicated CVRD is taking action on the issue and listed some activities; all but one  involved more study and talk, not action.

The Medical Health Officer and the Air Quality Meteorologist for our area both agree that the data shows wood stoves and backyard burning, which are regulated by local government, contribute significantly to our poor air quality. They told CVRD at a meeting last June that there was more than enough information to act now.

Yet at the same meeting, CVRD avoided setting up an air quality advisory committee (but they did approve another study!).

Other smoky areas on Vancouver Island have set up air quality committees and these have been key to creating change. We need one here and there is no need to wait until after a future forum to act. Why not strike a committee now so its members can at least attend the forum to get up to speed?

There is overwhelming research and medical evidence that show how fine particulates (found in wood smoke) affects lung development and function in children, and increases asthma, respiratory illness, cancer rates and heart attacks (see for more information).

Just like cigarette smoke, no one is immune to the toxins in wood smoke. We now know both cigarette and wood smoke make people sick and reduce their life expectancy. We’ve acted on one; it’s time to act on the other.

Jennell Ellis

Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley

Posted in Health, Media Story, Monitoring, Solutions and tagged , , , .


  1. While appreciating Ms Ellis’ take on this serious issue, one needs to acknowledge that there are many families in the Comox Valley that simply cannot afford other sources of residential heating. When faced between feeding your family or paying for a more expensive heat source the choice is obvious. It’s so easy to preach from atop a high horse!
    Government incentives are certainly welcome but of little use to renters and marginally employed people.

    • Bernie,

      is your family one of the many families in the Comox Valley that simply cannot afford other sources of residential heating?

      if so, please let me know so I can help you improve the health of your family and help you switch to cleaner and healthier sources of heat, that will at the same time be financially sustainable for your if you are marginally employed.

      best regards.

  2. This is an argument members of our group frequently hear: that people can’t afford other sources of heat.

    But what of the low income person—who can’t afford to move—who has asthma, or a newborn, or a heart condition or other health issues that are impacted by wood smoke in their area? What happens when a bronchial infection keeps them from going to work or their kids from school? Many low income people fit this description and their right to breathe clean air is being taken away every winter.

    Yes, if you happen to have the truck, the chainsaw and the physical fitness all at the same time, you can get your wood and it is the cheapest heat of all. But if coal was cheap and legal to burn, would that be okay, simply based on the fact it was affordable? If tipping fees were too high at the dump for some low income people, would it be okay for people to burn it in their yard because they couldn’t afford to do anything else?

    The reason these things are not okay is because we all recognize that the toxic smoke can impact other people’s health. That is also why smoking is not allowed in public places or in cars with kids. Yet in one night, one wood stove pumps out the equivalent of many thousands of cigarettes. All smoke, including wood smoke, can have serious health impacts.

    But our group does recognize that affordability is a barrier to change for some wood stove users. This is one reason we have been researching the comparative costs of heating. We have learned that the cost of running a heat pump is cheaper than the cost of buying wood which many people do (our calculations will be posted on our ‘solutions’ page soon). It is also far less work and 100% cleaner. The cost of heating with natural gas is not much more.

    However, as you note, many can’t afford to install heat pumps or gas, or they are renters. The increased incentives for cleaner energy and funding for energy conservation that we are lobbying for are part of the solution, but we know other steps are needed.

    But change is absolutely needed as everyone’s health is being negatively impacted, particularly the low income people that you are advocating for. A lot of research shows that air pollution levels are higher in lower income areas, and that health problems are higher as a result.

    So help us find a solution that will not harm people who can’t afford to live elsewhere and will also be better for everyone’s health.

  3. I felt the Courtenay Elementary location wouldn’t be valuable because of the demographics where its in an open area and poor air quality would clear rather quickly. So given the poor air quality reports that are being produced, I now feel it is an excellent spot to have a monitor.

  4. Pingback: Local air quality getting media coverage – Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley

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