Air quality good despite recent haze

Tyler Clarke
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A haze of furnace exhaust and fireplace smoke has been hovering over much of Prince Albert lately, but air quality remains good to excellent.

“Generally the air quality is good to excellent, but in winter time the air is different,” the province’s manager of air science and monitoring Imran Maqsood explained.

“The cold air is more prevalent in the atmosphere during the winter months, so the pollutants can often be trapped closer to the ground level, resulting in reduced visibility and poor air quality.”

This phenomenon was seen during the area’s recent cold snap, during which the exhaust from furnaces appeared to rise a short distance before spreading horizontally, blanketing the city in a fog.

The potential for poor air quality is compounded during cold days by furnaces running at greater frequency and vehicles running longer to warm up, Maqsood noted.

Although the city does not have an anti-idling bylaw, city bylaw manager Suzanne Stubbs notes that idling is covered in two separate bylaws.

The city’s traffic bylaw reads, “No person shall permit a vehicle to be parked with the engine running unless the same is locked or if in charge of and under control of a licenced driver.”

Under the noise bylaw, diesel motors are not allowed to run for longer than 20 minutes while the motor vehicle is stationary in a residential area -- a bylaw that city vehicles are exempt from.

Recognizing the need to limit air pollution, city operations manager Alain Trudel said that crews have an unofficial policy to limit the idling of vehicles.

But, the colder it gets the more fuel is used, he said, noting that  “It’s one of those necessarily evils.”

“Those crews are working either in mud or sewage or water up to their knees or higher, so they have to have a place to warm up,” he said.

“We’ll leave a vehicle warming so they’ll have a place to warm up, but most of the time the vehicles will be shut off if they’re not in use.”

Vehicles that run on diesel are another concern, he said, noting that in some cases not having a diesel engine running can be more expensive in repairs and maintenance than leaving it running.

Generally the air quality is good to excellent, but in winter time the air is different Imran Maqsood

“Our fuel consumption for the month of December, January, in -30 C (or colder) that we’ve had for the past month is definitely going to be a high consumption time,” he said.

Although weather has been bitterly cold, Trudel said that it’s nothing city crews are not prepared for.

“It’s cooler than what we’ve been accustomed to in the last few years, but not historically,” he explained. “We’ve had much colder winters many, many years ago. Most people tend to forget that.

“Everything’s going very well. We’ve been very fortunate so far this year. Minor breakdowns, but nothing too serious.”

Despite greater idling of vehicles and the limited disbursement of furnace exhaust and chimney smoke, Maqsood notes that air quality remains “Good” in Prince Albert.

Updated every hour, on the hour, by mid-afternoon on Thursday Prince Albert’s air quality was rated at eight on a scale that goes up to 125 -- a placing firmly in the centre of the “Good” category that includes zero through 25.

Fine particular matter was measured at six micrograms per cubic metre, nitrogen dioxide at 0.023 parts per million, ground ozone at 0.016 parts per million and sulphur dioxide was at 0.001 parts per million.

The only time air quality is worse than “Good” in Saskatchewan is when there are forest fires in the area, Maqsood said, noting that human-produced pollutants have yet to aversely affect air quality to a degree in which it is of medical concern.

Hourly air quality readings are taken in Prince Albert at 63 12th St. E. and recorded online at on the hour.

Click HERE for the lastest air quality index. 

Organizations: Prince Albert

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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