The Southeast Saskatchewan Airshed Association (SESAA) had the chance to discuss air quality in the southeast during a recent presentation to Estevan City Council.
SESAA was the first organization of its kind in the province when it was established in 2005. A year later, it initiated a passive air monitoring program.
They follow an Alberta model, and so their members include members of the oil and gas sector, the mining industry, agriculture and coal-fired power plants. The board of directors includes members of the Ministries of Health, Environment and Energy, the oil and gas sector, SaskPower and other members at large.
“Our airshed zone was chosen due to air quality concerns, highest asthma rates in Saskatchewan and the numerous industrial point and area sources,” SESAA executive director Terry Gibson told Council.
Continuous, passive air monitoring has been conducted at 28 stations throughout SESAA, he said. They have done a good job, but changes are needed. They have gone from collecting just sulfuric oxide, nitrous oxide and ozone, to also collecting ammonia, along with benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes.
“It's a broader spectrum of what we're doing,” said Gibson.
They also have two airpointers: one that's two years old near Weyburn, and another that was installed five months ago near Glen Ewen. SESAA has been awarded a grant from Environment Canada to purchase new equipment.
Gibson told Council that there haven't been any significant air quality issues at the passive monitoring network since June 2006. Sulphuric oxide and ozone measurements are well below the provincial air quality standards; hydrogen sulphide (H2S) has exceeded provincial standards for one-hour spells.
But a more comprehensive approach is needed, Gibson said, one that would investigate and document all sources of air pollution and would design approaches that address all or many of sources. He would also like to see a thorough air management plan.
Council also heard about an air quality and lung health study being launched by the Airways Research Group at the University of Saskatchewan. Estevan residents who are 50 to 70 years old, and have five to 10 minutes a day to record breathing symptoms and do a lung test in their homes are encouraged to participate, according to Dr. John Gordon from the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine.
The study will run from September to November of this year, and March to May and September to November next year. The study aims to find out the impact of outdoor pollution on respiratory health.
The studies are taking place in Estevan and Swift Current – two communities with an abnormally high asthma rate.
Saskatchewan's rate for chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and COPD, is above the national average, and that Estevan is above the provincial average. The study will examine the ambient airborne contaminants found in Estevan, looking at levels of inhalable particulate matter and the chemical contaminants they carry.