B.C. Air Quality


Emissions of particulate matter in Skeena Region can be classified into three types of activity-related sources: natural, industrial, and domestic:

  • Natural sources include wind-blown dust, wildfires (forest fires), volcanic eruptions and sea-salt spray.
  • Industrial sources are typically ones that are regulated by the government: through an air emissions permit or regulation of the Ministry of Environment (MoE). These sources include open burning of land-clearing debris, emissions from beehive burners, and other "stack-type" sources.
  • Domestic sources tend to be smaller and emitted by individuals, such as wood-burning appliances — and automobiles, which produce both tailpipe emissions and road dust. Also in the domestic category are emissions from industrial transportation (e.g., rail and trucking).

Emissions from many of these sources can be in the air at any time. Under certain conditions, such as those associated with poor atmospheric dispersion, particulate emissions from a single source can dominate local and/or regional air quality conditions, staying in the air we breathe for some time.

Top of Page

Industrial (Point)


The above chart shows the total emissions of particulate matter allowed by permits (tonnes/year) for selected communities in Skeena Region. These emissions have been extracted from the MoE Permit (emission) Fees Database.

Permit fees are based on the maximum authorized discharge limit in the relevant MoE air emissions permit, or on provincial discharge factors (usually related to production rates). This source is consistent for the emissions data presented below. However, its accuracy is very dependent on how recent the air emissions permit has been updated and how much permit "compliance insurance" an emitter wants to maintain.

Is Your Woodstove Up to Snuff?

Some chimney smoke likely will be visible when you light your fire.

But for the rest of the burn, it should be almost invisible.

Is dark, or even moderately dark, smoke coming from your chimney? White or blue smoke? Or any colour?

If so, you and your neighbours are going to be breathing in polluted air until the smoke is blown away.

Or until you stop burning.

To find out how you can burn efficiently (and save money on wood), see below.

Comparisons between industrial sectors (e.g., Kitimat smelting versus Interior sawmilling) are less accurate than comparisons between operations in the same sector (e.g., two sawmill communities). The community-total emissions data do not include unpermitted sources such as natural emissions, road dust, wood-burning stoves and automobile exhaust.

The Kitseguecla site is an SCI sawmill just downstream of the Hazelton's on the Skeena River. The coastal sites include pulp mills and an aluminum smelter. In Interior communities, local sawmills produce most of the permitted emissions.

Total PM
(t a-1)
(t a-1)


Current: 19 1 2000

Sawmill community emissions (Burns Lake, Smithers, Houston, Kitseguecla) are not insignificant compared to coastal communities — where particulate emissions come mainly from the paper mill and aluminum smelter in Kitimat, and the pulp mill in Port Edward.

The figure above shows the proportion of permitted particulate matter emissions from beehive burners in Houston and Smithers. It indicates that, in these communities, beehive burners are the dominant source of permitted particulate matter emissions. As a result, beehive burner emissions are of concern to WLAP with respect to managing airsheds with particulate matter issues.

Beehive burners are significant point sources of particulate matter. Phase-out plans have been in existence for Tier 1 (burners in populated, smoke-sensitive areas) burners for many years, but a number of them are still in operation as a result of extensions to deadlines.

Three high-priority burners are based in the smoke-sensitive Bulkley Valley, two in Houston and one in Smithers. A lengthy environmental appeal took place regarding these three burners. Click here for an overview: Case Study: Beehive Burner Phase-Out in the Bulkley Valley.

Top of Page

Industrial (Area: Open Burning)

Resource Burning

Photo of Open BurningResource burning is used as a forest and insect-hazard abatement strategy by the forestry industry, and falls under the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation (1993) of the Environmental Management Act. Emissions from open burning of land-clearing debris are also regulated by this regulation. The intent of the regulation is to reduce smoke emissions and impacts without requiring an air emission permit or approval from MoE. Skeena Region has developed a Guide to the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation. It provides practical direction to this activity and its regulation.

The Ministry of Forests and Range also regulates open burning through the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act and the Provincial Forest Use Regulation.

Initiated before the start of the September-October 2001 resource-burning season, MoE Skeena Region and MoF Bulkley/Cassiar Forest District (now part of the Skeena Stikine Forest District) worked cooperatively with licensees to develop the Bulkley Timber Supply Area Burn Plan for Smoke Management (PDF) (effective as of April 1, 2002). The plan was developed for pollution-prevention purposes related to open burning. It is considered a “burn plan” under the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation.

Fall and Burn Activities

Tree infestation by bark beetles is a serious and growing problem in British Columbia, including the Skeena Region. Trees infested by bark beetles are harvested on a priority basis to sanitize (protect) the surrounding forest.

The leftover wood debris must be disposed of in a manner that will kill remaining beetle larvae. Burning is the preferred method, and must be done before the beetles from the debris can emerge as adults. Depending on the species of beetle, emergence can be in May-June or July. As a result, “fall-and-burn,” as well as conventional harvesting and pile burning of beetle-infested wood debris must occur in winter.

During the cooler months, fire hazard is generally not a problem. However, the local air's ability to disperse smoke tends to be at the lowest levels of the year. This creates challenges in finding a balance between burning to protect the remaining forest from bark beetles, while protecting people in the area from exposure to the particulate matter in smoke.

MoE Skeena Region is working with the Ministry of Forests to address these issues by experimenting with custom venting forecasts, to allow beetle wood burning to be accomplished while protecting human health and the environment.

Top of Page

Wood-burning Stoves

Photo - Homes with Woodstoves

Woostove smoke can pollute your neighbourhood's air.

Wood-burning stoves, especially older models operated poorly, are notoriously inefficient at fuel combustion when compared with other heating sources. A poorly operated stove burning uncured wood can produce a dense smoke plume.

Pollutants from wood smoke can be trapped and concentrated near the ground during these periods, reaching very high concentrations. In calm clear weather, such as during temperature inversions typical in Skeena Region in winter, the atmosphere's capacity to disperse emissions is at a minimum.

As a result, smoke plumes from woodstoves and fireplaces build up in the area, and cause local air pollution. As anyone who lives near a chronically smoky woodstove knows, the emissions from even one household can pollute the surrounding neighbourhood for hours and even days, whenever the stove is used.

Emissions from new stoves are regulated by the Solid Fuel Burning Domestic Appliance Regulation under the Waste Management Act. Careful operation of a wood-burning appliance can result in dramatically reduced emissions.

This table explains how to make your woodstove burn efficiently and keep smoke to minimum. You'll save money on wood, too. But remember, a natural gas furnace is still much more efficient than any wood-burning appliance.

Tips for Using Wood-burning Appliances
Check your smoke! Your smoke should be almost invisible, except when you first light your fire.
And your fire

Dark or even moderately dark smoke leaving the chimney — and long-lingering flames leaving the firebox — indicate incomplete burning.

Open your damper, and make sure you're following all the other steps below.

Use an optimal stove size Oversized stoves must be dampened down to maintain a comfortable temperature. This promotes pollution.
Use a certified stove Clean-burning stoves certified to US EPA 1990 or CSA B415.1-00 standards are better for air quality.
Use a proper wood supply Clean, split, seasoned (eight months or more), dry wood. Protect from rain and snow. Wet, dirty, or unseasoned wood burns inefficiently and generates air pollution.
Burn small, bright fires Poorly started and oxygen-starved fires smoulder and generate a lot of smoke.
Use clean alternatives Alternative fuels should be used if possible. This is especially important when air quality is poor and in mild weather when stoves have to be dampened down to maintain a comfortable temperature.

Top of Page

Backyard Burning

Photo - Backyard Burning

Backyard burning traditionally involves the burning of yard residue. Besides the fact that the residue can often be used for other useful products (see below), the smoke plume from backyard burning can expose people in the surrounding area to high concentrations of pollutants.

A nasty practice when it comes to air quality: burning all kinds of debris, such as painted and treated wood, plastics, rubber and garbage. Burning these materials releases toxic Photo - Burning above Terracesubstances. (So please don't put a load of painted or treated wood marked "free firewood" out on the front lawn for others to take and burn.)

Backyard burning can be regulated or banned using municipal bylaws.

To control this activity, Smithers used the ministry's >Model Municipal Bylaw for Regulating Residential Backyard Burning.

Yard residue can actually be used as a valuable resource, rather than being burned. Here are some suggestions:

  • Compost leaves, clippings and organic garbage wherever possible. You might consider making wood chips out of branches by renting a mulcher between friends.
  • Some communities have a community compost where you can take your leaves and garden refuse. Others will pick up refuse for disposal in landfills.
  • If you must burn, then burn only woody debris. Never burn materials such as tires, plastics, construction and demolition waste, treated and painted wood, rubber and household garbage, which emit toxic substances during combustion.
  • To keep smoke to a minimum, follow these tips:
    • Use a safety-approved incinerator.
    • Light a quick-burning, hot fire. The higher the temperature, the lower the particulate (and hydrocarbon) emissions.
    • Give the fire a lot of oxygen; don't damp it down.
    • Burn only dry material. It should not be wet or damp — or else when it's burned, it will emit a lot of contaminants.
  • Also, don't burn when the smoke will be trapped in the area — make sure Environment Canada's Ventilation Index for your area is "good".

Top of Page


Like any combustion source, automobiles emit byproducts of the combustion process, including particulate matter. Emissions from the transportation sector can be reduced by:

  • Decreasing the need for transportation through such actions as land-use planning and telecommuting;
  • Encouraging alternatives to the automobile such as public transit, carpooling, walking and cycling;
  • Reducing emissions per vehicle-kilometre traveled through the use of cleaner vehicles and fuels. The Ministry of Environment is implementing this option through programs to:
    • reduce emissions from existing vehicles;
    • encourage the availability and use of cleaner new vehicles;
    • reduce emissions from existing fuels;
    • encourage the availability and use of cleaner, alternative fuels; and
    • improve gasoline distribution and refueling systems for cleaner fuels.

In addition, the B.C. Government has passed several regulations under the Environmental Management Act to help reduce vehicle emissions. For information on these regulations, visit the Vehicle Emissions website (Environmental Quality Branch).

Top of Page

Road Dust

Click to enlarge

In the spring, Skeena Region's Interior valleys accumulate particulate matter from open burning, residential wood burning stoves, vehicle exhaust, road dust, and beehive burners. The provincial government has brought in regulations to reduce emissions on the combustion side of this equation. Controls on road dust relate more to the practice of applying and removing road-traction material.

To minimize road dust emissions during this period, municipalities could:

  • Sweep municipal streets more frequently;
  • Do additional dust control on unpaved high-traffic routes, especially before periods of forecast dry weather;
  • Establish guidelines and standards for all paved commercial and public parking lots — to mitigate the release of fine dust from sanding and sweeping;
  • Set guidelines about the amount and location of traction material applied depending on weather conditions; and
  • Ensure street sweepers are operated in a manner that minimizes dust emissions. This may include applying adequate water spray to wet down areas where street sweepers are working. Water trucks equipped with spray bars could wet the road surface down so that no dust is generated with street sweeping, assuming they don't get too far ahead of the sweeper.

Over the longer term, municipalities could consider:

  • Determining if any local or area roads could be hard surfaced;
  • Requiring that all areas of new development plans. Contact your local municipality to find out about dust-management strategies in your community.

updated: september 2009


Particulate Matter: Case-Study

Beehive Burner Phase-out in the Bulkley Valley

Photo of Beehive Burner

By the 31 December 1997 Wood Residue Burner and Incinerator Regulation deadline, 44 of the 80 Tier 1 burners (five in Skeena region, including one in New Hazleton) were shut down.

The three highest-priority Tier 1 burners in Skeena Region remained in operation, all in the smoke-sensitive Bulkley Valley. Cabinet amended the regulation that month to extend operation of these burners for up to one more year, with a provision for further extension under certain conditions.

Photo of Beehive Burner

In June 1997, G.E. Bridges and Associates was commissioned by the BC Government and the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) to do a study of opportunities for the use of wood residue, and the phase-out of beehive and unmodified silo burners. It showed that few value-added uses of wood residue are currently viable. It also suggested policy options to remedy this and accelerate the phase-out of beehive burners.

In November 1997, a panel toured the province to receive input on the Bridges report and the phase-out of the burners. Three major themes emerged:

  • public health impacts from wood smoke pollution is (still) a major concern;
  • there is a need to protect jobs and economic prosperity; and
  • there is a desire to see wood residue put to value-added uses, particularly co-generation.

Photo - Public Display of  Beehive Burner Info
In 1998, the three Bulkley Valley Tier 1 beehive burner operators submitted their phase-out plans for community review in Smithers and Houston. The plans, which required Cabinet approval, called for upgrading the burners and an extension of five years to develop alternative wood-residue disposal capabilities.

Not to minimize the importance of issues such as resource stewardship, the fundamental issue driving much of this process is the quality of air in the valley. Therefore, as part of the review process, the Ministry of Environment (MoE) prepared a report containing a comprehensive review of air quality monitoring data from the stations in Houston and Smithers.

A report was also composed describing the history of the phase-out issue in the context of the Bulkley Valley up to this point. Copies of these reports were sent to all those who expressed an interest or who were stakeholders in the issue. Copies were also uploaded to the Internet as a public service for others who may have been interested.

After reviewing all submissions, Cabinet agreed in December 1998 to a two-year extension for the Bulkley Valley beehive burners. MoE Skeena Region amended the burners’ air emission permits (CanFor Inc., Houston Forest Products Company, and Pacific Inland Resources) to maximize the pollution-prevention capability of burner operations. The permits require:

  • one weekly start-up and shut-down, and burner temperature/emissions control optimization with continuous controlled-feed burning;
  • ability to provide supplementary fuel as needed by a controlled fuel-addition system during periods in which less wood residue is produced (i.e., shift changes, breakdowns, and lunch breaks);
  • capacity to divert wood residue to allow the burner to shut down for up to five consecutive normal production days for air-quality management purposes, in response to anticipated/actual adverse weather or air quality conditions;
  • twice-per-year public reporting of beehive burner phase-out progress, and interim pollution-prevention and wood-residue utilization initiatives; and
  • continuous real-time visual monitoring of emissions via a Webcam connected to the internet.

MoE continues to encourage mills to separate the various wood residue types as much as is practical. This is to facilitate better utilization of white wood in value-added applications, such as panel board manufacturing at the Newpro plant in Smithers. The twice- annual public reports should help track progress and diligence in this regard.

As of March 1999, all three burner operators appealed some or all of these amendments (and in one case other pre-existing permit conditions), as did a number of residents of the Bulkley Valley, represented by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. These appeals were to be heard by the Environmental Appeal Board.

All parties to the appeal of the beehive burner permits met over the spring and summer months of 1999 in a process whereby a solution to the outstanding issues was mediated. A mediated settlement was not achieved by all parties. MoE notified the Houston burner operators that the appeals would continue. West Fraser and MoE have effectively resolved any differences they had and have negotiated a beehive burner episode management plan. The plan allows for the burner to be shut down when directed by MoE in response to periods of poor air quality and/or dispersion meteorology.

Photo - Protest against Beehive Burners in Smithers

The appeals were heard by the Environmental Appeal Board on February 21, 2000 and March 3, 2000, at the Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers. The Environmental Appeal Board ruled that the BC Lung Association could participate in the hearings for the purposes of providing medical and scientific evidence on respiratory health, and the risk to public respiratory health arising from, or contributed to, by the operation of beehive burners.

On April 25, 2002 the Environmental Appeal Board came down with a decision regarding the Houston burner operators. Results can be found at the EAB Waste Management Act Decisions for 2002, appeal 1999-WAS-06/08(d), 1999-WAS-11/12/13(d), 2000-WAS-01(d).

updated: may 2006

Top of Page