A summary of our 2019 regional air quality monitoring results show that overall, the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) risk to health rating in the region was significantly lower in 2019 when compared to 2018. In 2019, there were 177 hours of high or very high risk ratings. In 2018, the number was 849. The 2018 annual total was largely influenced by poor air quality conditions in August of that year caused by wildfire smoke, predominantly coming from British Columbia.
Seven of FAP’s 10 continuous monitoring stations collect data used to calculate an hourly and forecast AQHI in and around Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. The AQHI describes the level of health risk associated with an index number. The higher the index number, the greater the health risks. The risk levels are further categorized as low, moderate, high or very high. Risk to health increases as the index level rises.
More than half (58%) of the 2019 high and very high risk ratings were caused by wildfire smoke that occurred in late May and early June. The second most frequent cause (25%) of high or very high ratings in 2019 was wintertime temperature inversions.
Overall, the region experienced low risk ratings an average of 94% of the time in 2019, a six percent improvement over 2018. Among FAP’s permanent stations, Lamont County had the most low risk readings at 95.5% of the time, while Fort Saskatchewan had the least amount of low risk readings, at 90.7% of the time.
During 2019, there were 191 occurrences across FAP’s ten monitoring stations where air quality measurements exceeded Alberta’s Ambient Air Quality Objectives. There were various causes for these exceedances, but the majority (60%) were due to high concentrations of Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) caused by wildfire smoke. Exceedances recorded for other substances were attributed to wintertime temperature inversions, summertime smog, local industry or were undetermined.