Air quality is a growing concern in the Comox Valley and across BC.

Smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces is the most significant source of air pollution in the Comox Valley because of the Valley’s frequent temperature inversions and calm winds in winter when people are burning wood as their primary source of heat. 

Wood Smoke and Your Health

“Small particulate pollution have health impacts even at very low concentrations – indeed no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.”
– World Health Organization, 2018

Much like cigarette smoke, wood smoke contains tiny particles. These particles are called particulate matter (PM2.5) and they cause many kinds of serious health effects, including heart and lung problems - especially among children and the elderly. This means that it is important to minimize the amount of smoke we produce and our exposure to it.  

Woodstove Exchange Program

The Wood Smoke Reduction Program provides opportunities to save money by offering rebates to replace old wood stoves with a cleaner heating option such as a heat pump or a gas, propane or pellet stove.

Smart Wood Stove Burning Practices

Keeping firewood dry, allowing enough time for it to cure before using, and  following good burning practices is essential to reducing smoke from wood burning. Smoky fires affect the health of our families, our neighbours, and our community. 

These videos by the Fraser Basin Council are also a good source of information:

Burning Clean: It Starts with the Wood

Wood Smoke: Tips for a Cleaner Burn

 

Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I learn more about Wood Smoke’s impact on health?
What can I do to improve local air quality?

Burn responsibly. Burning wood poorly can pollute an entire neighbourhood. Smoke from a wood stove can seep into a neighbour’s house, even when their doors and windows are closed. Keeping firewood dry, allowing enough time for it to cure before using, and  following good burning practices is essential to reducing smoke from wood burning. 

The Wood Smoke Reduction Program provides opportunities to save money by offering rebates to replace old wood stoves with a cleaner heating option such as a heat pump or a gas, propane or pellet stove.

However you choose to heat your home, don’t let your house waste the heat - visit CleanBC Better Homes or talk to an Energy Coach to learn about saving money and saving energy.

Instead of burning yard clippings and branches from your property, consider delivering them to the Comox Valley Waste Management Centre where they will be blended into SkyRocket compost. If you are in an area where open burning of yard debris is permitted, and burning of this debris is the only option available to you, consider burning only on days when the ventilation index is “good”, and ensure your fire is extinguished and no longer releasing smoke before evening.  

What about open burning? What is allowed and when?

For information on burning restrictions in your neighborhood, check with your local fire department:

Baynes Sound – Denman/Hornby Islands (Electoral Area A)
Comox Fire Department
Courtenay Fire Department
Cumberland Fire Department
Lazo North (Electoral Area B)
Puntledge – Black Creek (Electoral Area C)

Instead of burning yard clippings and branches from your property, consider delivering them to the Comox Valley Waste Management Centrewhere they will be blended into SkyRocket compost.

If you are in an area where open burning of yard debris is permitted, and burning of this debris is the only option available to you, consider burning only on days when the ventilation index is “good”, and ensure your fire is extinguished and no longer releasing smoke before evening.  

Burning of large debris piles (“slash piles”) is to be done in compliance with the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation. Initiating an open burn must only be done when the ventilation index is “good” and is predicted to be “good” or “fair” on the following day. Further material may not be added to the pile if the ventilation index then becomes “poor.”

The smoke release period must not exceed 96 consecutive hours. If you have concerns regarding smoke from large open-burning piles, they can be reported to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277. 

What is the “ventilation index” and how does it affect air quality?

The ventilation index (or venting index) is a measure of the ability of the atmosphere to disperse airborne pollutants, and is based on current weather conditions. Smoke is considered an airborne pollutant. Weather conditions that result in temperature inversions, such as cool and clear fall or winter days, lead to a venting index that is typically considered “poor” – meaning the atmosphere is unable to disperse air pollutants, and they are trapped near the surface, resulting in compromised local air quality. 

The Province of BC has recently released an interactive map of the ventilation index forecast for areas throughout the province. The map, which includes the current ventilation index forecast for the Comox Valley, is available here.

What about wildfire smoke?

Unfortunately, wildfires and smoke are becoming a regular part of summer in British Columbia. We can’t predict when or where wildfires will happen, but we can prepare for smoky summers. Listed below are resources from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Who is responsible for air quality management in the Comox Valley?

Managing air quality is a multi-jurisdictional challenge involving many levels of government as well as citizens. The provincial government’s Ministry of Environment (MoE) is responsible for implementing the air quality management system (AQMS) and also addresses air pollution through legislation, codes of practice, permits and standards. As part of AQMS implementation in the Comox Valley, the CVRD has worked with the MoE to establish an air quality monitoring station in the Comox Valley.

Many areas in the Comox Valley have bylaws in place that regulate burning activities. Many of these bylaws are intended to reduce the risk of fire and resulting property damage, though they also provide air quality benefits. For instance, depending on where in the Comox Valley you reside, backyard burning may be prohibited, or may require a permit. For further information on burning restrictions in your neighborhood, check with your local fire department:
Baynes Sound – Denman/Hornby Islands (Electoral Area A)
Comox Fire Department
Courtenay Fire Department
Cumberland Fire Department
Lazo North (Electoral Area B)
Puntledge – Black Creek (Electoral Area C)

What is local government doing to improve local air quality?

Wood Smoke Reduction Program - The CVRD, with funding from the Province of BC, is offering rebates for switching an old wood-burning appliance for a cleaner heating option such as a heat pump or a gas, propane or pellet stove. In an effort to reduce pollution from smoke from wood heating in the Comox Valley, effective June 15, 2019, the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) is no longer providing rebates to replace old woodstoves with new woodstoves. Instead, we have increased rebates for gas, propane and pellet stoves from $600 to $1,000. Further details are available here.

At the CVRD Board’s strategic planning session in December 2018 and at its January 2019 meeting, air quality was named as a corporate priority with the following specific direction provided:
“…investigate formation of a Regional Airshed Advisory Group, to consult with staff at The Village of Cumberland, Town of Comox and City of Courtenay and to report back to the Board by spring 2019; and that the mandate of the advisory group would be to provide a report with action items by September 2019.”
A working group, comprised of municipal and CVRD staff and representatives from Island Health and the Ministry of Environment, is develop options related to a long-term regional approach for improving Comox Valley air quality and will report back to the Board in September, 2019.

Air Quality Emissions Inventory - The CVRD partnered with the Ministry of Environment to conduct a particulate matter emissions inventory for the Comox Valley for the baseline year of 2015. The study was completed in March 2017, and is available here. Some commentary on road dust emissions was subsequently issued in 2019 to clarify the degree to which road dust contributes towards fine particulates in the Comox Valley, and that commentary is available here.

Air Quality Elected Officials Forum – On April 4, 2017 the CVRD hosted an air quality elected officials forum, where presentations from a variety of experts in the air quality field were brought forward for consideration. Minutes of this forum, including presentations, are available here.

Where can I find more information about air quality?

BC Air Quality homepage – includes information on air quality advisories, current air quality health index (AQHI), current venting index & links and updates to provincial air quality legislation. 

The Province of BC – includes information about Pollution Sources, Emissions, Smoke & Burning, and Air Quality.

The British Columbia Lung Association – the BC State of the Air Report is published annually by the BC Lung Association’s Air Quality and Health Steering Committee. It provides a snapshot of current air quality issues across the province.