Our air quality monitoring results show the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in our Airshed was of low risk to health at least 89% of the time during the first three months of 2021. Elk Island had the highest percentage of low risk readings and Fort Saskatchewan the lowest. Risk to health increases as the index rises. The Government of Alberta calculates the AQHI using data collected at seven of FAP’s air monitoring stations.
There were no occurrences of very high risk AQHI ratings at our stations and only one occurrence of a high risk rating. The high risk occurrence was due to a wintertime temperature inversion, a weather condition where cold air along with pollutants is trapped near the ground by a layer of warmer air above.
As a comparison, there were 10 more occurrences of high risk AQHI ratings in 2020 when compared to the first quarter of 2021. This is mainly due to the higher number of days that the region experienced winter temperature inversions during Q1 of 2020.
*The portable station was moved from Chipman to Sturgeon County in June, 2020.
Fort Air Partnership has partnered with other Airsheds in Alberta to discourage needless idling of vehicles. Research shows that reducing the idling time of a vehicle to 60 seconds or less reduces negative impacts on air quality and the environment, and saves fuel and money.
For example, excessive idling increases the emission of pollutants such as particulate matter, which can aggravate health problems among people with heart and lung conditions, older adults and children. In the U.S., Environmental Protection Agency air monitoring at schools has shown elevated levels of toxins during pickup times as parents sit in idling vehicles waiting for their children.
Interestingly, idling for 10 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting a vehicle. Excessive idling can also strip oil from critical engine components. Even for diesel engines, idling for longer than seven minutes is typically not advised and provides no benefit regardless of weather conditions.
It is estimated that if all drivers in Canada reduced needless idling by three minutes per vehicle per day, collectively it would annually save 1.73 million litres of fuel, $630M in expenses and take the equivalent of 320,000 vehicles off the road. Block heaters are a good alternative to warming the engine before starting on very cold days. At -20°C, block heaters can improve overall fuel economy by as much as 10 percent.
Fort Air Partnership is encouraging local drivers to not idle their vehicle if parked for more than 60 seconds once the vehicle is warm. People are asked to show their commitment to vehicle idling reduction by taking a pledge. You can learn more about vehicle idling reduction by visiting the Alberta Airsheds Council’s website.