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What are the Main Sources of Air Pollution?

What are the Main Sources of Air Pollution

The main air pollution sources of concern for the citizens of Port Alberni are: smoke from residential wood heating; smoke from outdoor burning; pulp and paper emissions; ship, truck and automobile exhaust; cigarette smoking; and indoor air pollution.

Smoke Pollution

Smoke Pollution and Health

Wood Burning for Residential Heat

Backyard and Land Clearing Burning

Garbage Burning

Slash Burning and Wildfires

Cigarette Smoke

Alternatives to Burning

Pulp and Paper Pollution

The pulp and paper industry has played a central role in Port Alberni since 1947.

Catalyst Paper Corporation currently employs 280 people here and is a leading producer of telephone directory and lightweight coated papers for publishers and commercial printers throughout North America, South America, and Asia.

Historty of Operations

History of Air Quality Improvements

Pollution Permitting

Emissions Reporting


Pulp and Paper Toxic Emissions

Burning Wet Salty Hog

Burning Tire Derived Fuel

Effluent Treatment Sludge

Landfill Containment of Hazardous Waste

Vehicle Exhaust Pollution

In large cities across the country, ozone and nitrous oxides from vehicle emissions rise to the top of air quality concerns and take their place with the general particulate matter category. Vehicle exhaust is full of extremely tiny toxic particles. During poor venting days, especially in the summer, you can see this pollution as a dense brown haze. Forty percent of the PM in that haze is from vehicles.

In Port Alberni, as in many communities, emissions from trucks and cars are the largest contributor, by far, to toxic nitrous oxide pollution. They are also significant contributors to hazardous air pollutants and carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, 1,3 butadiene, and diesel particulate matter.

Exhaust is a complex cocktail of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, nitrous oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To make matter worse, when it's warm and sunny, the NOx and VOCs react chemically making ground level ozone, yet another damaging toxin.

For a description and health effects of these contaminants go to:

Criteria Air Pollutant Descriptions

Some developments that have reduced vehicle emissions include newer technologies (like the Smart Car), more efficient internal combustion engines, and cleaner fuels.

However, the best way to reduce vehicle emissions is to reduce vehicle use as much as possible. At least, when vehicles are in use, reducing unnecessary idling is beneficial for air quality.

Idling Gets You Nowhere

Canadians idle their vehicles for an average of five to ten minutes a day. In the peak of winter the combined total is more that 75 million minutes a day - equivalent to one vehicle idling for 144 years.

How could one person's decision to stop unnecessary idling have any effect? If every Canadian motorist avoided idling for just five minutes a day, 365 days of the year, more than 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and other toxic substances would be spared from entering the atmosphere.

Idling for more than 10 seconds costs more than turning off your engine. More than $1.8 million of fuel is idled away by Canadians every day. Running an engine at low speed also generates costs due to the doubling of wear on internal parts. This wear can reduce engine life by up to 20%.

Most idling is simply habit based on myth. There's no other way to explain why truck drivers would leave their rigs idling next to Alberni Elementary while they chow down in Tim Horton's….I kid you not.

Contrary to popular opinion, idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to do this is to drive the vehicle. With today's modern engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling on cold winter days before driving. Contrary to popular opinion, idling is not good for your engine. It can actually damage engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust systems. Contrary to popular opinion, frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like the battery and the starter motor and does not use more gas than leaving the engine running.

Idling gets you nowhere. It wastes fuel, money, and engine life while reducing air quality and contributing to climate change. The solution is literally in your hands - it's as easy as turning a key.

A city maintenance worker installed permanent Idle Free Zone signs around the Alberni Elementary School.

Idle Free Elementary


Proximity to Highways

In 2006, the Ministry of Environment published a set of "Environmental Best Management Practices for Urban and Rural Land Development in B.C.", where it states,

"According to a growing body of scientific literature, people living near freeways and major roads (roadways) have a higher risk of developing (or worsening) health problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia and heart disease. Exposure to this pollution has been found to hamper children's ability to learn. Motor vehicles emit at least 40 different air pollutants, usually concentrated within 150 meters (500 feet) of freeways and busy roadways. The research points to the need for increased awareness of the public health concerns associated with roadway proximity in creating land-use policy and environmental/air quality management programs."

Proximity to Highways

Our urban and rural design, land development, and policy planning should be founded on best management practices. Those practices include protecting hospitals, schools, long term care facilities, and residences from busy road pollution. Building setbacks of a least 150 metres are recommended. The setbacks required are even greater for truck routes, as elevated pollutant concentrations are measurable as far as 750 metres from either side of them. Best practices avoid development entirely on truck routes.

The ideal placement for heavy industrial traffic is as far away from people and where they live as possible.

Deadly Diesel Exhaust

Diesel engines emit 100 times more particles than normal gas engines of corresponding performance. Diesel exhaust particulate (DEP) is characterized by ultra fines (.1ug or less in diameter). These extremely tiny carbon atoms act like magnets to which 18,000 other compounds may stick. DEP size and affiliation with hazardous and carcinogenic pollutants wreaks havoc in human tissues. In the United States, it is estimated that between 70 and 89 percent of the total cancer burden due to air pollution is caused by DEP. In Canada it is estimated that as many as 13,600 Canadians will develop cancer over their lifetime from diesel exhaust.

For more information on the toxicity of diesel:


Related Links:

Transportation Emissions
Vehicle Emissions in B.C. - Statistics
How Vehicle Emissions Affect Us
Vehicle Emissions-Reduction Strategies
What You Can Do to Reduce Vehicle Emissions
Emissions from Different Modes of Transportation

Ship Exhaust Pollution

Approximately 50,000 merchant ships trade internationally, carrying 90% of world trade goods and 50% of Canadian exports. Pacific coast ship traffic is increasing dramatically as trade increases with Asia.

Most commercial ships are fuelled by a cheap, thick brew of sulphur and sludge known as Bunker C fuel. It is literally what is left at the bottom of the barrel after distilling Crude oil and removing the fractions used in propane gas, naptha, gasoline for cars, and jet fuel. It is so thick that it has to be preheated before it will burn. Ships have enough space to do this before feeding the fuel into their large propelling and/or auxiliary engines.

Bunker C is heavily contaminated with various substances which cannot be removed so, when burned, it pollutes heavily. One large ship generates about 5,000 tonnes of Sulphur oxide (SOx) every year. The low grade fuel has up to 2000 times the sulphur content of normal diesel fuel used in North American and European automobiles. The resulting sulphur-heavy emissions are released along with high concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), and nitrous oxides (NOx).

According to US academic research, emissions from the global cargo shipping fleet lead to 60,000 deaths in the US alone. Research done by the Danish government’s environmental agency estimates that every year there are 1000 premature deaths and health care costs of 5 billion pounds, mainly for treating cancers and heart problems caused by shipping emissions.

On March 26, 2010 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) designating specific portions of U.S., Canadian, and French waters as an Emission Control Area (ECA). In Canada, that area includes waters extending out 200 nautical miles off the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast.

ECA standards should become enforceable in August, 2012 and ships complying with them will reduce their emissions of NOx, SOx, and PM 2.5. By 2020, those annual reductions are expected to be in the order of 320,000 tonnes of NOx, 90,000 tonnes of PM 2.5, and 920,000 tonnes of SOx which is 23%, 74%, and 86% reduction, respectively, below the predicted levels without the ECA compliance. The Environmental Protection Agency of the U.S. estimates that the new ECA buffer zone will save 8,000 lives a year.

As with other coastal cities and towns that have acted on ship emission concerns, Port Alberni should require vessels to switch to low sulphur fuel while in Port. This would minimize negative health outcomes from ship emissions, especially during inversion weather conditions and especially for neighbourhoods that are only a few hundred meters away from the docks. Better monitoring for ship pollution could also be installed using fees collected from ships on behalf of Transport Canada.

Indoor Air Pollution

People tend to think of air pollution as something that happens 'outside'. But even in the most industrialized cities, the air inside many buildings and homes is often more polluted than outdoor air. To make matters worse, research shows that people now spend approximately 90% of their time indoors.

Inside air can be contaminated by infiltration from outside sources. For example, fine particulate matter from smoke or vehicle exhaust is so tiny it easily infiltrates homes through openings and even directly through the walls. Serious indoor pollution can occur in airtight homes when ventilation intake vents are near smoke or exhaust sources.

Unfortunately, cigarette smoke still tops the list for damaging pollution exposures. The choice to smoke inside is indefensible given the profound suffering and loss of health and life from first and second hand smoke. The good news is that removing this inside source is usually a fairly simple matter.

Any combustion sources inside is a potential sources of indoor air pollution. Appliances that burn, for example, oil, gas, kerosene, coal, or wood need to be maintained in top working order. Gaseous and particulate pollution can also come from chimneys and flues that are improperly installed or maintained and cracked furnace heat exchangers.

Poor draft is a common problem in wood stove systems that can result in a "back-draft" of smoke and carbon monoxide every time the stove door is opened. Back-draft contaminants can also escape during operation if door and window gasket seals are damaged.

Bringing natural gas inside the home and burning it are significant sources of indoor chemical contaminants. Exposures can be minimized from gas stoves, for example, by using a good fume hood that vents upwards and outside; adjusting the burners so the flame tip is blue, not yellow; and using pilotless ignition.

Starting and stopping a car in an attached garage, even with the door wide open, results in emissions of various chemicals that can be drawn into the house over a period of hours. For example, there are measurable concentrations of benzene in homes with attached garages. After a car has left, carbon monoxide levels in the house can climb to levels that will set off a CO alarm. Exposures can be minimized by venting contaminated air outside, and by ensuring that the garage is airtight.

indoor air

There are many non-combustion sources of indoor air pollution including mould, dander, pressed wood products, building materials, furnishings, carpets, household products like air fresheners, and even some air cleaners that produce damaging charged particles and ozone when operating.

Your home is your castle. Have a look around and make sure your air is safe and clean from the inside out.

Check out:
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation Clean Air Guide
Health Hazards of Natural Gas
Radon Infiltration, Second Leading Cause of Lung Cancer
EPA - Indoor Air Quality, Residential Air Cleaners
Health Canada - Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Emissions Inventory for Port Alberni

An emissions inventory is an accounting of the amount of pollution discharged into an airshed from different sources. The main emissions inventory categories are:


Mobile sources include on-road vehicles like cars, trucks, and buses. They also include off-road vehicles such as ships, airplanes, and equipment used in agriculture and construction.

Concerns, in this category, specific to Port Alberni include ship loading, idling emissions, and heavy truck and vehicle emissions along inner city routes.


Point sources are stationary industrial facilities that operate under ministry authorization. The largest point source emitter in Port Alberni is the Catalyst Paper Corporation. It is responsible for about 30% of the Nitrous Oxides, 10% of the Volatile Organic Compounds, and 90% of the Sulphur Oxides discharged into our airshed.


Dry cleaners, gas stations, and auto body paint shops are examples of area sources. They are stationary and relatively small individual sources that, collectively, can have a large impact on air quality.

Residential wood heating falls under this category and is a significant cause of air quality degradation every winter in the Alberni Valley.

Smoke from prescribed burning, land clearing burning, and backyard burning are other significant sources of smoke pollution. Within the latter, the burning of leaves, grass, and household garbage is extremely toxic and unnecessary. Exposures can be very high as this kind of smoke typically fumigates an area at ground level where people are living and breathing.


The following charts provide a rough summary for each of the main Criteria Air Contaminants discharged in the Alberni Valley in 2006 from mobile, area, and point sources:



nox updated


VOC updated

For charts in greater detail click here