January 10, 2011

Fort McMurray, Alberta – Since 2007, the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) has been scaling up the level of science within their programs in order to better support good environmental decision making in the RMWB. The Association has significantly enhanced their current programs and methods, and the latest enhancement comes in the form of changes to their Human Exposure Monitoring Program (HEMP).

In 2009 the HEMP committee conducted a full scientific review of their human monitoring program and considered various options for going forward.

WBEA Executive Director, Carna MacEachern, explains,

“We have been collecting data through HEMP for ten years. While the data we’ve collected to date are valuable and help inform other WBEA monitoring efforts, in 2009 we recognized that our human monitoring program needed to better meet the needs of the residents of the RMWB. We knew it was important to address people’s concerns about air quality related to odours in our Region.”

In response to these concerns and to the program review, the HEMP committee struck a new Terms of Reference and has changed its focus.

Lead WBEA Scientist, Dr. Kevin Percy, PhD, said,

“WBEA is of course aware of the fact that there have been an increased number of Ambient Air Quality Objective exceedances and odours in our Region. We are piloting a unique patented instrument to help us better understand these odours – a Pneumatically Focused Gas Chromatograph, for simultaneously measuring odour causing compounds, such as reduced sulphurs, hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds. We are also investigating additional technology that may be able to provide further information about odour occurrences. For example, what chemicals are present when odours occur? These are some of the questions we hope to answer.”

WBEA is also using its Human Exposure Monitoring Program to work more closely with regional and provincial health professionals. WBEA now supplies near real time air quality data to regional health professionals, and is leading the way in Alberta by beginning work with Environment Canada and Health Canada to pilot the national Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), in the region. The national AQHI is a scale that helps people understand what the air quality around them means to their health.

Regarding the changes to WBEA’s Human Exposure Monitoring Program, Carna MacEachern said,

“We are excited about the new direction of the program, and the overall goal of the HEMP committee remains the same – to help residents of the RMWB understand the air pollutants that they are exposed to on a daily basis, and to help them make informed decisions about air quality. More than ever, WBEA is committed to undertaking solid scientific work so that good or bad, our residents have the hard facts about the state of the air in our Region.”

For more information contact:

Melissa Pennell
WBEA Communications