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HomeTechnology & ScienceHere's where they get that data for the air quality health index

Here’s where they get that data for the air quality health index

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Robert Chrobak unlocks a black gate encircling a brightly coloured sea container in a neighbourhood of St. Albert, outside Edmonton.

“This is the St. Albert air monitoring station,” says Chrobak, operations manager with Alberta Capital Airshed.

“This works by collecting daily instantaneous samples that go through different analyzers that measure different pollutants.”

Chrobak points to intake pipes sticking out of the top of the building, which is near Holy Family Catholic School. The station measures things like wind speed and direction along with relative humidity, temperature and particulate.

The data is used to provide the air quality health index (AQHI) number for St. Albert. The AQHI rating indicates the relative level of health risk.

This illustration shows the approximate size of various particles. (Environmental Protection Agency)

During wildfire season, particulate matter is “probably the most important” air pollutant the organization monitors, says Chrobak, pointing to a sampling head for particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller.

Such fine particles can be trapped in the airways and lungs, and are believed to cause adverse health effects. They also reduce visibility.

AQHI numbers are posted to the Alberta Capital Airshed website in real time, and shared with partners like Environment and Climate Change Canada for its Air Quality Health Index forecasting. 

WATCH | Take a tour of this Alberta Capital Airshed continuous monitoring station: 

‘We breathe every second of every day so air is critical’

Learn more about the not-for-profit organization Alberta Capital Airshed and the data they collect for the air quality health index.

You can see more about air quality, wildfire and smoke on a special edition of Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

Alberta Capital Airshed is a not-for-profit organization that monitors, collects and shares information on air quality with the public.

It currently has five continuous monitoring stations in the capital region, and plans to add two more by the end of this year. They cost about $350,000 each said Gary Redmond, Alberta Capital Airshed’s executive director.

A man in glasses in a blue vest stands in front of a colourful building.
Alberta Capital Airshed executive director Gary Redmond says two more continuous monitoring stations will be added to the Edmonton area in 2023. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The group also has about 40 fine particulate matter sensors and 15 passive monitoring sites to help round out the data in the capital region.

Alberta Capital Airshed is one of 10 airsheds in Alberta that together operate 88 stations across the province in a system dating back to the 1990s.

Redmond predicts we’ll need even more air quality monitoring stations moving forward.

“We breathe every second of every day so air is critical.”

A new air quality monitoring station on wheels is the latest piece of equipment to be deployed this wildfire season. 

Julie Kusiek, the engagement co-ordinator with Alberta Capital Airshed, says the gropu is excited to put a $350,000 portable air monitoring station into action this summer. 

A woman in a green vest stands in front of an open door to the trailer that will have air quality monitoring gear inside.
Julie Kusiek, engagement co-ordinator with Alberta Capital Airshed, getting the portable air monitoring station ready to roll. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“What it means is it will be able to do some high quality continuous air quality monitoring in communities that don’t have a permanent station already there,” Kusiek said.

She says the organization often responds to questions from the public about air quality through its website. It also hosts regular clean-air webinars and conferences.

“I think the smoky skies get people really interested in the air quality that they are breathing.”

A hazy, smoky sky over a river with green trees on the banks.
Smoke blankets the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton on May 20, 2023. (Paige Parsons/CBC)

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