montanaview2Good air quality is important to human health and to ecosystems. While a certain amount of impurities are unavoidable, steps can be taken by residents and businesses to limit the amount emitted. Major pollutants include carbon monoxide, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, ozone, the sulphur dioxides, the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.58 Concentrations of gases are often measured in parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb).

Particulate matter consists of smoke, dust or soot. Some natural sources of particulate matter are forest fires, dust from fields, pollen and sea spray. Some anthropogenic sources are fuel combustion, wood burning, residential heating, pesticide use and smoking. Particulates are classified into coarse and fine particles. A coarse particle has a diameter of less than 10 micrometers; while a fine particle has a diameter has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless gas with a strong odour. Much of the sulphur dioxide emitted in Alberta comes from natural gas processing plants. It is produced from the burning of fuels such as coal, pulp and paper mills, petroleum refineries, the smelting of metals, and volcanic eruptions.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a poisonous reddish-brown gas. It is released as a by-product when fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) are burned. The main sources of nitrogen dioxide are motor vehicles and industry. Small amounts are also produced naturally.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless gas. The main source of carbon monoxide is motor vehicles; gas appliances and charcoal grills also produce it.

Ozone (O3) is a colorless gas which exists naturally several kilometres above the Earth’s surface. The Ozone Layer protects the Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, motor vehicles and industries can produce ground-level ozone which can potentially cause breathing problems, nausea and lung damage. It can also damage the leaves of plants.

Environment Alberta has air quality monitoring stations in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Calgary. The Air Quality Index is a system for reporting air quality hourly. This scale uses number ratings as follows: 0-25, good air quality; 26-50, fair; 51-100, poor; over 100, very poor. In general for Calgary and Edmonton, air quality ratings are “good” more than 90% of the time. Click here, to learn more about the Maximum Allowable Concentrations of Various Pollutants in Alberta.

In the southeast corner of Alberta, air quality is monitored by the Palliser Airshed Society (PAS). The Palliser Airshed area reaches as far north as Esther, as far west as Bassano, south to the U.S. border, and east to the Saskatchewan border. Click here, to learn more about the air quality monitoring stations (active and proposed) in the Palliser Airshed (as of June 19, 2009).

Alberta Agriculture displays an assessment of air quality risk for the agricultural area of Alberta. Agricultural activities that may have some influence on air quality include manure production (odour) and cultivation intensity (particulate matter). The airsheds of the agricultural region of Alberta are considered to be uniform in their physical susceptibility to risk from agricultural activities. The classes shown on the map were ranked from 0 (lowest risk) to 1 (highest risk).