Clean air advocates applaud online portal for pollution data

Air quality advocates say they are pleased with a provincial initiative to post data from air monitoring stations online in real time.

Air pollutants, such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and ozone, can be viewed on a government website

The New Brunswick government is now posting real time air quality data. This graph shows the fine particulate matter levels this week at the Forest Hills Air Quality Monitoring Station in east Saint John. (Government of New Brunswick)

Air quality advocates say they are pleased with a provincial initiative to post data from air monitoring stations online in real time. 

Levels of key pollutants, such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and ozone, at 13 air quality monitoring stations around the province have been available online since July.

Visitors to the site can click on a type of pollutant, select one of the monitoring stations and a chart will show current levels as well as and levels over the previous several days.

Dan Crouse, a University of New Brunswick researcher in the area of health geography, says the web portal will be particularly useful for researchers and students. (UNB)
Other features allow users to plot levels over months and even years.

A station in Forest Hills in east Saint John showed levels of fine particulate matter spiked on Monday evening to 56 micrograms per meter cubed, well above the standard that would raise health concerns if sustained.

An hour later the level had dropped to six.

"If people are going to go on this portal, that's one of the pollutants you want to keep an eye on," said Gordon Dalzell of Saint John's Clean Air Coalition.

"They're the ones that the body has no defence over. You can't see it, you can't smell it," said Dalzell.

You can't see it, you can't smell it.- Gordon Dalzell, Clean Air Coalition

Dan Crouse, a University of New Brunswick researcher in the area of health geography, says he is impressed with the portal.

"I think there would be a lot of opportunity for doing some interesting things here," said Crouse, who has worked extensively in environmental epidemiology.

He says the web portal will be particularly useful for researchers and students.

Barb MacKinnon, president of the New Brunswick Lung Association, also said she is pleased with the website and the opportunities that it gives to people who care about the issue of air quality.

"If we get a complaint, for example, from a member of the public who might have noticed an air pollutant in their particular area, we could have a look at that portal," said MacKinnon.

"And if there is a monitor in the location where we get the complaint from, we could help that person interpret the data."

The site provides raw data only, which can be difficult for some users to interpret.

MacKinnon, Crouse and Dalzell all recommend the federal government's air quality health index, which offers a simple 1 to 10 scale on overall air quality.

According to that index, risk levels in Saint John Monday evening were low.   

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