Number of Passive Monitors in Network Reduced

Posted on September 8, 2020
As part of the on-going refinement of our air monitoring network, FAP has recently reduced the number of its passive monitors in our network. We now have 16 passive monitors in the Airshed, down from 47. See the revised network map for where the current passives monitors are located.
A key reason for the reduction is that our continuous air monitoring stations now provide adequate coverage of the region where FAP has focused its monitoring, including communities and other populated areas. We have a total of 10 continuous stations strategically located through the Airshed,
While passive monitors are a simple, inexpensive way of tracking monthly average concentration levels, they are only able to determine the dispersal of two substances. Since samples are only collected monthly for analysis, they cannot be used to determine immediate short-term impacts to air quality. In contrast, our continuous stations collect and record data for many substances in near real time, providing a much more robust approach to monitoring and therefore enabling a more complete understanding of local air quality.
Before removing passive monitors from the network, an in-depth review was undertaken and the recommended changes were approved by our Technical Committee that includes Alberta Environment and Parks representatives. Removed passives were considered redundant, either because they were too close to each other or because of their proximity to a continuous station. The remaining passive monitors will continue to measure concentrations of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide where we currently do not have continuous monitoring, as well as along our Airshed’s borders.

The Impact of Harvest Activities on Air Quality

Posted on September 3, 2020

Air quality in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland can be affected by many natural and anthropogenic (human-made) emission sources. One of these sources is agriculture, both from livestock operations and crop production. With fall quickly approaching, harvest activity in fields throughout the region will become a common sight.

Clouds of dust are telltale signs that farmers in combines, tractors, trucks and other equipment are hard at work reaping what they sowed several months ago. It’s natural to wonder what dust generated by harvest activity does to air quality.

Airborne grain dust is a complex mixture of organic material fragments from grain, plus mineral matter from soil, and possibly insect, fungal or bacterial contamination. It mainly manifests itself as particulate matter (PM), which is organic and inorganic particles suspended in the air. PM2.5, about 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair, can lead to health complications if concentrations are high.

In our local Airshed, there have been only a few recorded cases since the Airshed was formed more than 20 years ago where harvest dust was the attributed cause of concentrated particulate matter in the air that exceeded provincial standards.

A 2012 study by Scottish researchers noted that technology and evolved farming practices have reduced the level of inhalable grain dust significantly in Great Britain since the 1990s. While there are no directly comparable North American studies, the British experience shows that changes over time in farming practices and technologies have been effective in reducing dust concentrations and dust exposure, particularly amongst those directly engaged in harvesting activities.

Most of the time exceedances involving PM2.5 in the local Airshed are caused by wildfire smoke or winter temperature inversions that trap pollutants close to the ground. Wildfire smoke drifting into the Airshed has not been an issue to date in 2020 as there have been no PM2.5 exceedances in the region attributed to wildfire smoke. In comparison, there were 90 instances in 2019 where PM2.5 exceedances were caused by wildfire smoke.