Feb. 21th, 2013

With generous support from the Ministry of Environment, Sea to Sky Clean Air Society was able to send a small delegation to BC Lung Association’s 10th Annual Air Quality and Health Workshop at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver yesterday. Representatives from government agencies, along with health practitioners, air quality professionals, researchers, academics and members of the public attended in the hopes of learning about this emerging issue from experts in the fields of air quality and health. The goal of the workshop was: “to provide a state-of-the-art overview of the evidence relating to ultrafine particles in air- their sources, concentrations, measurement approaches, epidemiology, toxicology and potential control / regulatory / management efforts” and the caliber of the presenters and the cutting edge information delivered more than surpassed this goal. A great deal of information of a highly scientific nature was presented, however, the key take away points are as follows:

  • UFP are particles that measure less than 0.1 um and can be found both indoors and outdoors.
  • Chemically and physically they can be quite diverse often as a result of a number of factors, notably origin, distance from source, and meteorological conditions.  Some are reactive.
  • Important to have a clear measurement objective as there are many ways of measuring UFP, but with varying results depending on how it’s done. Important considerations may include mass of particles vs. concentration and proximity to source.
  • Common sources include: local combustion (particularly woodsmoke and meat cooking), outdoor combustion (vehicle emissions), second organic aerosol (creation of new particles in the presence of sunlight or over a given temporal period) and long range transportation (due to meteorological conditions like wind storms)
  • More research needs to be done regarding health effects of UFP exposure,  however animal and human studies indicate that exposure duration, proximity to source, exposure while exercising, presence of other health conditions (i.e. asthma, heart disease) are all important factors. Potential health effects include: lung and systemic inflammation, cardiac impacts, and white blood cell activation
  • Because more research is needed to understand UFP impacts on human health, and because the particles themselves are source specific, instituting a UFP standard (similar to a PM2.5 standard) is likely not the best approach. Measurement at this time is expensive and extremely variable so the best approach may be to implement additional emissions restrictions at the source (e.g apply the European standard for tail-pipe emissions).
  • Other recommendations included greater coordination between agencies (i.e. air quality, health / medicine, academia), standardizing measurement methodology, potentially finding a surrogate that could be more readily measured and managed, doing more routine measuring of UFP, looking at what existing regulations aren’t covering with respect to UFP, and improved / clearer communication with the public.

For more information on this fascinating topic, please get in touch with Kim Slater, SSCAS Executive Director, seatoskycleanair [AT] gmail.com