Take a Deep Breath…

Blackburn Hamlet is a small community in the east end of Ottawa, nestled in the Greenbelt and having an area of approximately 650 acres. I have been a volunteer with the Blackburn Community Association for several years leading a variety of environmental initiatives and more recently heading the BCA Tree Team: a group of individuals dedicated to improving the health of our urban forest.
Recently, a resident flagged that he had noticed an increase in dust in the air, which through a series of events led me to start volunteering with the Sierra Club Canada’s Breathe Easy project. Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to perform air quality measurements in Blackburn. The air quality monitor measures a number of air pollutants including particular matter (PM2.5), which is the focus of the Breathe Easy project.
The following are some of the take-aways I have so far from my experience volunteering with Breathe Easy and in measuring PM2.5 in my community:
  • Take-Away #1: Air quality fluctuates day by day and pinpointing localized causes of air pollution is difficult. Our community -- despite being nestled in the Greenbelt and surrounded by trees -- does suffer from bad air quality, which fluctuates day by day and depending on location. For instance, on one day the average PM2.5 readings in my community were in the realm of 2.5 ug/m3 whereas a week later, readings were in the realm of 11.0 ug/m3 and as high as 20.8 ug/m3! Air quality measurements in the same location on different days were as low as 0.05 ug/m3 and as high as 14.5 ug/m3!
  • Take-Away #2: Air pollution is localized, and more localized air quality testing is required. Air quality as measured in downtown Ottawa through Air Quality Ontario doesn’t appear to be a good measure of air quality for Blackburn Hamlet. For instance, on the day where I was having readings in the realm of 11.0 ug/m3 in Blackburn Hamlet, the Ottawa Downtown readings were on average 3.0 ug/m3.
  • Take-Away #3: Cooking can be an important source of indoor air pollution. Mainly out of curiosity, I decided to measure the air quality indoors while cooking on my stovetop. In cooking bacon and hot dogs (no hood fan, no vent, no windows opened) I measured PM2.5 as high as 51 ug/m3! Use your hood fans and open your windows while cooking to improve your air quality!
So, where do I go from here? I have enlisted the help of my husband Kevin to build a stationary PM2.5 air quality detector. My hope is that by running an air quality detector consistently from my home I will then be able to take concurrent air quality measurements throughout my community. 
The objective: to be able to pinpoint localized sources of air pollution in Blackburn Hamlet, put forward recommendations for improving air quality in my community and create a clean air walking or cycling map for Blackburn Hamlet so that residents and visitors to our community can reduce their exposure to air pollution by taking the safest route to their destination.
It goes without saying there is still lots of work to do and data to gather -– in the meantime, consider joining the Breathe Easy Project to help and... use your vents, hood fans and open your windows when cooking indoors!
Sarah Morgan-White
BreatheEasy Volunteer
Blackburn Community Association, Tree Team


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