Thursday, 5 January 2017

Extreme risk in your neighbourhood looks like this

Here once again is the power of data and the "swarming" approach that we have on Gabriola Island and elsewhere thanks to low-cost, realtime air quality sensors made available through PurpleAir. Our 8 sensors on Gabriola Island show the hyperlocal effects of wood burning on local air sheds. The Berry Point Road sensor is showing a sustained and dangerous pattern of particulate pollution for the past hour. You should also note the sawtooth pattern on roughly an hourly basis that accompanies wood burning from wood stoves and fireplaces. This is an extremely risky environment to live around, yet the cognitive dissonance and the rationalizations of those who generate problems like this create blind spots. This is why regulation and a proactive position by local governments is needed, and also why other organizations like the BC Lung Association need to come out strong against all wood burning.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A visual representation of what hazardous wood burning actually looks like

Just another day here on Gabriola Island and another example of the hyper local effects of wood burning on air quality. This particular chimney (connected to an EPA airtight wood stove) is almost solely responsible for these unacceptably high readings. Note the other readings on the island from our "swarm" of PurpleAir sensors to see the localization of the effect.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Learning how to identify industrial sources of pollution

Here's a good example from our 8 PurpleAir sensors on Gabriola Island of industrial pollution affecting the entire region. We're guessing that this is pollution from the Harmac mill in Nanaimo given the shape of the curve, distribution and timing at different sensors with those located closer to the mill spiking first. There was a uniform increase in levels across all sensors between 7-8PM tonight. This rules out other sources like domestic wood burning although a more detail-oriented eye will see those spikes as well within individual patterns - it may also suggest the arrival of an inversion.

Friday, 2 December 2016

This is really what's behind wood stoves in North America

The HPBA is the main lobby group for the wood stove industry, and a major driver behind wood stove exchange programs. Look at how they're marketing their 2017 Expo and tell us again why you want to be any part of this BC Lung. See

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Spoiling An Otherwise Clean Air Day

Here's another excellent example of how wood burning for home heating pollutes a neighbourhood. Look at how clean the air is in most other locations. Our sensor on Jolly Brothers Road on Gabriola Island went into the hazardous zone, and the see-saw pattern is wood burning without a doubt.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A comparison of weekly particulate levels across sample cities and towns

There are lots of ways to look at measurements for air pollution and different time frames that people and regulators look at. If we look at the weekly average for particulate at the PM 2.5 scale across several PurpleAir sensors, some interesting and troubling trends become evident.
Here are some 7 day averages from a sample of sensors in British Columbia and one wild card sensor - downtown Los Angeles near Dodger Stadium. LA is known around the world for the poor quality of its air.
Here's what we see. The worst weekly average in Canada can be found in Prince George BC with 16.06. Prince George has an active pulp and paper mill, other significant sources of industrial pollution, and lots of people who burn wood for residential heating.

In Parksville we see a weekly average of 10.85. This is mostly a retirement community on Vancouver Island and the readings from this sensor are likely due fully to wood smoke emissions from residential sources.

One of our sensors is Kamloops is 800m away from an active pulp and paper operation and its weekly average is 8.34. Based on a review of past data from this sensor there appears to be little residential wood burning in this area. Wood smoke has a very specific and identifiable signature.

Downtown Vancouver has a weekly average of 3.9. This is a city with 600,000 people, a fair amount of vehicular traffic, but wood burning is not commonly practiced at the residential level.

Our wildcard of LA had a weekly average of 12.88.

It should be clear that wood burning is a main driver of air pollution in many communities, and you may be surprised to see worse air pollution this time of year in small cities and towns in BC when compared to Vancouver and LA.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

Wood smoke is the new second-hand cigarette smoke

Wood smoke is the new second-hand cigarette smoke. This article and television news clip makes some excellent points.

To read the article and view the video click here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Clean "country" air is an illusion

If you moved to the "country" for clean air and a healthy lifestyle it's time to rethink things. Right now air quality on Gabriola Island is mosty in the warning zone due to wood burning appliances like woodstoves and fireplaces with air quality readings of over 100. By contrast downtown Vancouver at rush hour is in the 50s and downtown Victoria is in the teens.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The local effects are staggering and patently unfair

We have a very serious wood smoke problem here on Gabriola Island, and there is no doubt that almost 100% of the problem is due to individuals burning wood at home for residential heating. Here's a snapshot from 10:30AM on October 10, 2016, of a new sensor in the Pat Burns area. This level of particulate matter exposure is very hazardous. Note the other readings in the region, especially the sensor only 400m away (as the crow flies) with a reading of 7 at the same time.

Friday, 7 October 2016

We now have 8 sensors on Gabriola Island

As of today, Gabriola Island BC probably has the highest concentration of air quality monitors in the world. Our non-profit uses 8 PurpleAir sensors to provide real time data for an island of 14km by 4km in size with a full time population of around 4000. Why so many? The island has simultaneously some of the world's best and worst air quality, and it can vary from block to block based on the concentration and frequency of residential wood burning activities. To see our sensors go here.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The anatomy of a health crisis: One night in little Beijing (aka Gabriola Island)

The anatomy of a public health crisis: Wood smoke and its hyper local and rapid degradatory effects on air quality on Canada's west coast.
This could be the title of a scientific paper that I am working on. Here are some snapshots from this evening of how one wood stove in a neighbourhood can harm health. It is a graphic example of how localized the effects are and why more distributed monitoring is needed. Of course, it's useless to monitor unless their are penalties for exposing people to such high risk, day after day, year after year.
This time series is from October 2,2016, and it captures snapshots starting at 17:46 and ending at 20:12
Note the good clean air across all six regional PurpleAir sensors initially, and how degraded the Berry Point sensor on Gabriola Island gets. There are real people living near that sensor who are suffering and likely having their lives shortened.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

How to understand PurpleAir sensor readings

Air pollution has a unique signature depending on the source or sources, location, baseline, magnitude of change, and the mechanisms by which it is produced. Here are some simple ways to identify what's happening when reading PurpleAir monitors like what we have here.
The first image is from a rural community. Note the good quality air with PM2.5 levels between 1 and 2 with a sudden but short-lived spike to 7.5 at 11:15AM. This is a pattern I have seen before and it represents a dirty diesel truck (most likely a water truck) going past the sensor.
The second image represents normal variation on a good air quality day. 
The third image is from a city with the sensor reflecting activity from a local pulp and paper mill and local traffic.

The last image is a rural community snapshot of a good day punctuated by what happens when a wood stove or fireplace is lit nearby. Note the sudden and dramatic increase in pollution and the saw tooth pattern as the stove get to a higher temperature, but when opened and new wood is introduced, the spike occurs again but it's usually not as high as the initial lighting.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Bearing witness to harm by thorough documentation

Documenting wood smoke pollution is an important and necessary step toward increasing awareness of its behaviour and effects.

Taking photographs and measurements of wood smoke pollution is not a crime - even if uninformed local police departments believe that doing so is a kind of criminal harassment.

For example, Metro Vancouver suggests that the following be pursued if wood smoke from a neighbour is having an impact on you:

- Keeping a wood smoke diary to record the frequency of incidents and their impact on you and your family.

- Talking to your neighbours to see if they are affected and willing to make impact statements.

- Taking photographs or video of the smoke, especially if it enters your property.

- Contacting Metro Vancouver as soon as you observe wood smoke so that an Officer might attend the scene.

- Giving permission to Metro Vancouver to set up monitoring equipment on your property.

The hyper local effects of wood smoke

The PurpleAir PM2.5 network shows in real-time exactly the contribution of wood smoke to the air shed. Here's a snapshot of air quality readings from just a moment ago from one of our sensors on Gabriola Island. Note the readings of the other sensors nearby and in Parksville. This is not industrial pollution, vehicles, road dust or anything else except a neighbour near this sensor who continues to burn wood in spite of the evidence of harm. Note the telltale pattern of combustion with cooling and the addition of more wood.

Also, compare this to the air quality reading from the same minute taken at a monitor close to the Harmac Pulp and Paper Mill in Nanaimo.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A week of data from one of our monitors

With the PurpleAir monitors that we now have running in Canada, data can be downloaded and analyzed like this. Here's data from one sensor on Gabriola Island for the first week of September 2016 on a minute by minute basis. This chart is based on 12,748 samples.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Live Feed Of Air Quality From Gabriola Island And Parksville

The PurpleAir monitors are working extremely well and provide useful real-time data that looks like this in map form.

By clicking on an individual monitor and going to the Real Time tab you will see trend data like this.

To access our monitors click here.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Article in the Nanaimo News Bulletin about our PurpleAir network

Here's a nice article in the Nanaimo News Bulletin about our new air quality monitoring network. 
"Gabriola Islanders are taking air quality monitoring into their own hands.
The Gabriola Clean Air Society is using citizen scientists in a monitoring network aimed at educating people about how varied air quality can be and what people can do to address pollution.
Four air quality sensors are now on Gabriola Island and one in Parksville."

Saturday, 13 August 2016

We are building Canada's first low-cost, air quality monitoring network

The Gabriola Island Clean Air Society is building Canada's first distributed, low-cost, air quality monitoring network using citizen scientists. This technology comes from PurpleAir and it will help achieve the following objectives on our island. First, there is no air quality monitoring done on Gabriola Island on a regular basis. This equipment provides real-time, 24 hour data. Second, the network of monitors may help provide early warning to our fire department and other emergency responders regarding fire threats. Think of it like having smoke detectors in your home but in this case in your community. Third, a new proposal to create five anchorages for large ships off the shores of the island means that this network will provide baseline data on existing air quality plus track any changes resulting from ship activity. Fourth, the network will also allow us to understand more fully the relative contribution of off-island point sources of air pollution including an active pulp and paper operation in Nanaimo. Lastly, the network of sensors can help identify pollution hotspots from residential activities including illegal outdoor burning, garbage incineration, and hazardous domestic woodburning practices - all of which have an indisputable adverse impact on human health and the environment. We have two monitors operating currently and plan to have several more over time. Please contact us at for more information or if you would like to buy/host a monitor. You can see results from the monitors here

Monday, 15 February 2016

Wood Furnaces Are A Public Health Disaster

An individual from Kentucky sent us a video clip of what she has to live beside. Her neighbor uses a wood furnace and the amount of pollution, and associated health and environmental risks, are off-the-scale.

Another Example Of Irresponsible Wood Burning

People from around the world are facing a public health crisis due to exposure to wood smoke from neighbors who either don't understand, or simply don't care, about how their behaviour is affecting others.

Here's another contribution of what it's like to live beside someone who burns wood.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Niagara Falls: If Backyard Fires Start, They May Not Stop....

Here's a short video about a brave battle to stop an initiative to allow backyard fires in the Niagara Falls area.

Wood Smoke Killed Starla the Dog

Here is a sad story from a contributor to the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society about how prolonged exposure to wood smoke killed their beloved pet dog Starla of St.Catharines, Ontario.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

On why wood smoke is risky

Highly recommended video on the risk of wood smoke exposure from Dr. Brian Moench, M.D.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Shaw TV Show On Wood Smoke

In January of 2015, Shaw TV in Nanaimo produced the following show about wood smoke pollution on Gabriola Island. It features two of Gabriola Island Clean Air Society founders: David Boehm and Michael Mehta.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Learn about TZOA - A wearable air quality monitor

An interesting new company has been formed to market wearable environmental monitors. Check out the following video.

Show the love, support clean air in your community

A new non-profit has been started called the Gabriola Island Clean Air Society.

How clean are the emissions from a SUV?

In August 2015 we decided to test the PM 2.5 levels from a 2013 Ford Explorer with a V8 engine. The nephelometer was positioned 15cm away from the exhaust pipe on a calm day. After several minutes of readings on a warmed up engine, the PM 2.5 levels ranged between 8 and 11 with a modal response of approximately 8.5. Here's a photo of the experiment,

This shows us how clean vehicles emissions are when compared to woodsmoke fires.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Comparing Fuel Prices

Dave Neads found this article with this chart at the end. Dave's comments are below the picture. You can compare different fuels to see whether you're paying too much  for your particular situation.

The important part of this paper is the chart at the end.

It shows the relative cost for different fuels based on BTU delivered. Pay attention to the different assumptions, not every wood stove is equal, not every type of fuel is equal.

The heat delivered by each scenario is relatively fixed, the ratios between each source don't change. Your scenario may or my not match one of these scenarios.

When you compare electric kW to wood, paying 10 cents per kWh is the same as
paying $290 a cord 
(Pine and fir) if you use a 70% efficient heater.  Rarely 
does a heater put out 70%, most air tights are in the 50% or less
range. In that case you should pay less per cord because you'll need more so the price of wood that is equivalent to 10 cents per kWh drops to just over $200 per cord.

In other words in a typical scenario if you are paying more than $205 a cord it is cheaper
to use baseboards. But then you say your wood is free, you cut and chop it yourself from your own property.  Still, your labor has value, what else could you do with your labor and how many hours did you put into your cord of wood?

Further, a heat pump is 2 for one re kWh.  So in effect 10 cent
electricity becomes 5 cent electricity.  In that range if you pay more
than $168 a cord , a heat pump is cheaper to operate.

Plus no PM2.5, none of the 160 odd other poisons into the air and our

It is interesting to note that the hotter the burn, the less PM2.5 ,
however the higher temperatures produce more dioxins and furans than a
cool fire.  You can't win either way.

There is a reason civilization went from wood to coal to oil. Wood is a
dirty, low grade inefficient fuel.  Period. That is why it is illegal to
heat with wood in Vancouver, West Vancouver and so on.

If I came into your backyard a lit up a cigarette you can rightly force
me to put it out.  But if my neighbour's wood smoke fills my yard or my
house there is nothing I can do.  Where is the logic in that?

Thursday, 3 September 2015

About Us

The Gabriola Island Clean Air Society is a legally incorporated non-profit society registered in the Province of British Columbia, Canada. Our email address is

To see our live PurpleAir sensor network click here.

Our purposes are:

To promote protection of the air shed on Gabriola Island and Vancouver Island region from smoke and other airborne pollutants.

To work with other organizations including local, provincial and federal governments to improve air quality by identifying current, emerging and future threats that may compromise public health and/or the environment.

To work with organizations and governments to reduce risk from outdoor burning practices, wood smoke from wood burning appliances, and to help develop voluntary initiatives, bylaws, and enforcement recommendations.

To perform educational and outreach functions to increase understanding of these threats to air sheds.

To explore and develop alternatives to wood burning practices, incineration of municipal and household waste, and related burning practices.