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Air quality monitoring station moves into Bonnyville

Those who claim that Jessie Lake is the source of an occasional rank smell around town may be right.

Those who claim that Jessie Lake is the source of an occasional rank smell around town may be right.

The Lakeland Industry and Community Association (LICA) has moved one of its active mobile air quality monitoring stations into Bonnyville as a celebration of Clean Air Day.

“It's the one monitoring station that we move from area to area,” said program manager Michael Bisaga. “It's providing us data for the air quality index in Bonnyville, which is something we haven't had before.”

Bisaga was demonstrating the Portable Air Monitoring Station (PAMS) at an open house at the Alberta Energy Regulator's Office on June 8. The information session was intended to help explain the process of air quality testing, as well as the need for it.

PAMS measures a number of different things in the air, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, hydrocarbons such as methane, particulate matter such as dust and smoke and hydrogen sulfide, which the station detected coming off Jessie Lake within its first week of operation.

“We've only been monitoring since Friday. So far the air quality is good, though we've picked up some hydrogen sulfide from the wind blowing off of Jessie Lake,” explained Bisaga. “Oftentimes we hear from people complaining that there is a smell in Bonnyville and a lot of people suspect it's the lake. Now we have some data to support that.”

Bisaga added that there is no real air quality concern in Bonnyville and that moving the air quality station around is merely a normal practice. Though he conceded that air quality might diminish slightly over the winter months.

“It will be interesting to see what air quality is like in the wintertime, because oftentimes you'll get temperature inversions keeping pollutants from motor vehicles close to the ground,” noted Bisaga, adding that was what he suspects is responsible for the occasional “winter haze” seen in town.

“With the air quality station here we will be able to determine what is causing that.”

The station, which fits inside of a trailer, collects air samples and then separates the different compounds into different boxes. It then measures the amount in the sample before exhausting the sample back to the air and collecting the next sample.

Bisaga added that the station is measuring samples every couple of seconds and updates a program on LICA's website every hour.

The station was previously set up in Elk Point. There are four active monitoring stations and 27 passive monitoring stations in the Lakeland region. A passive station is simply a collection unit that does no measurements and simply transmits data, whereas an active station collects samples and actively measures them. LICA also has a number of plots of soil they regularly examine for contaminants and soil pH.

“What we're monitoring at the soil sites is the effect of air quality on soil, so for example acid deposition – we used to call it acid rain but we now know it happens in more than just wet form, it can happen in dry conditions too,” added Bisaga. “We collect samples every year and monitor for long term change in soil chemistry.”

The air quality station also collects a general sample of air for laboratory testing, much like a water quality technician would take a bucket of water and test it.

The air quality station is expected to stay in Bonnyville for at least the remainder of the summer and hopefully for the entire year.