While many Yukoners enjoy some of the best air quality in Canada, a recent study shows there are areas for improvement.
Air in nine Whitehorse neighbourhoods was monitored from November 2015 to April 2017 as part of the Whitehorse Air Quality Monitoring Study. It was done in partnership with the City of Whitehorse and Health Canada.
The study found four neighbourhoods (Kopper King, the Hidden Valley subdivision off the Mayo Road, the Takhini Trailer Park and Riverdale) had higher levels of pollution, especially in the winter months.
The study suggests the pollution is due to residential wood smoke, which is worse during very cold periods.
In areas like valleys, the cold air and humidity can mix with the smoke, trapping it closer to the ground, instead of it clearing away in the wind.
Overall, there is no immediate risk to public health, the Yukon government said Wednesday.
However, wood smoke can irritate lungs and airways, especially in the young and old, cause asthma attacks and worsen chronic lung or heart disease.
The study will continue monitoring in Whitehorse and add a transportable monitor for forest fires, as well as a new monitoring location in Dawson City.
The government said it will work with communities to encourage more efficient wood burning, and will use the additional data to guide the work to improve air quality for years to come.
“We are lucky to live in an area with some of Canada’s cleanest air, but even we can do better,” said Environment Minister Pauline Frost.
“Further research, discussion and monitoring will inform government decisions that will work to improve the quality of air Yukoners breathe.”
The neighbourhoods tested were the Kopper King Trailer Park, Range Road (Northland Trailer Park), Porter Creek (Jack Hulland Elementary School), Takhini (the Geological Survey building), Hillcrest/McIntyre (Elijah Smith Elementary School), Hidden Valley, Riverdale, Copper Ridge and downtown Whitehorse (412 Steele St., the national air quality monitoring station).
“The two biggest contributors to poor air quality in Yukon are wildfire smoke in the summer and residential wood smoke on cold winter days,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical health officer.
“We can do more to ensure that Yukoners can breathe the cleanest air possible.”
In the 1970s and ’80s, Yukoners used federal grants to convert to wood heat – creating acrid woodsmoke problems in places like Riverdale when there were winter temperature inversions.
When the poor air approached near-intolerable levels, the city would impose no wood-burning orders and patrol streets to ensure no smoke was emerging from chimnies.