Judi Krzyzanowski has submitted a proposal to the Aviva Community Fund to obtain initial funding to start the monitoring system, but the outcome of that grant depends on members of the public going online to vote for the proposal. The proposal can be found at http://www.avivacommunityfund.org/ideas/acf12727, and voting ends on Nov. 9.
Krzyzanowski completed her Masters degree on air pollution at the University of British Columbia, and was invited to complete her PhD by participating in a project commissioned by the Treaty 8 First Nations to study air quality issues in the Northeast a few years ago.
“One of the main findings was emissions in the region are severely underestimated and under-documented,” she said. “About 50 per cent of the emissions of things like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) go unreported.”
“In British Columbia, when you emit to air, you need a permit, but you only need a permit if you emit more than 30 tonnes of sulphur over a 15 day period, or about two, tonnes of sulphur per day, so for a lot of the smaller facilities, of which there are many, they don’t need permits, and that’s one of the ways British Columbia estimates its emissions,” she continued. “Similarly, for federal inventories, they have a 20 thousand man hour per year limit, which is about 10 full time workers, so if your facility has less than 10 full time workers you don’t have to report your emissions.”
Krzyzanowski also studied whether fresh water systems might be sensitive to acidification from sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions, and concluded while most ecosystems are alkaline and can neutralize incoming acids, others are vulnerable and can lose biodiversity as a result.
The third part of her study was establishing a small-emissions model in a 2,500 square kilometre area around where the Doig River meets the Peace River, where intense oil and gas activity is occurring.
“Using a model that ran complete emissions – not just those that were reported, but also those that went unreported – my model predicted exceedences of British Columbia and Canada’s ambient air quality objectives. Those are set as limits to protect human and environmental health, so if they are exceeded, there’s a threat to human and environmental health.”
However, she said a short-term model like that can have many errors, so that is why a longer-term monitoring system is required to measure cumulative impacts. She said the dangers to human health are not only from acute exposure from potential gas leaks, for example, but also chronic impacts from long-term exposure such as lung damage, and even cancer, as some of the VOCs and other emissions are known carcinogens. She added there is also risk to the environment and to agriculture.
She said even if her bid for funding is successful, there would only be enough money for one continuous monitoring station with passive samplers, but her hope is that might create some momentum so that more monitors could be purchased to study the entire Peace region. She said those monitors would measure emissions in the parts per billion, as those concentrations can cause harmful health effects. She added she would like to leave it up to local stakeholders where that first monitor should be located, but she suggested the area where she did her original modelling might be a good place to start.
Krzyzanowski said in Alberta, there are already several, multi-million-dollar air monitoring systems established, some funded completely by industry, but none in British Columbia. She said she has found partnerships among local stakeholders, including First Nations communities and school boards, but has not had success to date in getting a commitment from industry or the provincial government. She even applied for funding through the BC Oil and Gas Commission’s Science Community and Environmental Knowledge fund, but after a long process the proposal was ultimately rejected.
“I don’t really think there is much time that can be wasted here, we really need to get something going,” she said.
Krzyzanowski has since moved to Ontario where she operates an environmental consulting firm, but stays involved in local air quality issues through an Oil and Gas Working Group led by Northern Health’s Dr. Charl Bandenhorst.
The provincial Ministry of Environment has been contacted to confirm what involvement the provincial government has in establishing an air monitoring system in the Northeast, and that response will be posted as soon as it is received.