Tunkwa Lake fire already elevating particulate readings in Kamloops area

By James Peters
May 16, 2018 - 12:21pm Updated: May 16, 2018 - 5:40pm

KAMLOOPS — The forest fire burning near Tunkwa Lake is already having a negative impact on the air quality in Kamloops.

TRU Environmental Studies Professor Michael Mehta oversees two networks of air quality monitors in the city, and says particulate readings have steadily increased over the past 24 hours.

"We've noticed, in the last 24 hours in particular, that there's been a slow but significant increase in particulate exposures in the Kamloops area, probably because of the local forest fire situation."

Mehta is known for his Purple Air monitors, but says a second network launched this year — called Sensor Up — will provide even more data.

"We know that, especially in areas like Kamloops that are in a bowl, air quality can change very rapidly. We need to respond rapidly," said Mehta. "We need the technology, which we now have through these networks, to make good decisions about protecting our health and well-being."

According to Mehta, the second set of monitors compensates for a loss of government data in the city.

"It's somewhat unfortunate that, as of January of 2018, the Ministry of Environment actually closed down the second air quality monitoring station that we had here in Kamloops, up in upper Aberdeen. So we're down to one right now for the ministry," said Mehta. "But luckily, we have more than 40 other low-cost sensors spread across the city through these other two distributed networks."

While the air quality this week is not nearly as poor as it was at the height of the 2017 wildfire season, Mehta believes the data being gathered by the two monitoring networks will be invaluable for both individuals and local governments.

"I think it's important that people recognize that the forest fire situation that we had last year is probably unfortunately not a unique situation. Periodically, perhaps even this summer, we may see a repeat of it. As a result, this gives people, organizations, cities and others a chance to be proactive and to make decisions earlier about what to do when public health is in jeopardy."

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