Can more be done to prevent Vernon dust advisories?

Click to play video: 'Dust advisory days increasing in north Okanagan city'
Dust advisory days increasing in north Okanagan city
Watch: Can more be done to clean off local roads to prevent air quality problems in Vernon? – Mar 21, 2019

Vernon has been living under a dust advisory for four days now.

It’s the fourth such advisory so far this year, which in total have spanned almost two weeks.

On Thursday afternoon, the 24-hour average concentration of coarse particulate matter in the Vernon air shed was more than double the provincial objective.

One issue is that the relatively confined valley where Vernon is located tends to trap the dust.

However, the main culprits behind this week’s dust advisory are vehicles disturbing sand and gravel that was laid down during the winter to stop drivers from slipping, which has yet to be cleaned up.

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The Vernon dust advisories appear to be part of an increasing trend. In the last few years, Vernon has been living with dust advisories in the late spring and early summer for an increasing number of days.

A graph showing the number of days Vernon has lived with dust advisories over the last few years.

There were 13 days when Vernon was under a dust advisory last March and there have been 12 already this year.

However, the local provincial air quality meteorologist said that simply counting the number of dust advisory days may not tell the whole story.

“We don’t always issue dust advisories if the levels go high. Timing is everything. If they were to occur over a weekend, they may get missed. Also, we wouldn’t issue a dust advisory unless we believe the event is going to be prolonged,” said air quality meteorologist Graham Veale, who works for the provincial Environment Ministry in Vernon.

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Still, the dust advisory is raising questions about whether more could be done to clear-off local streets.

The city said it is already proactive about cleaning streets. “As soon as the snow goes away, our street cleaning happens immediately and we’ve been at it now for over a week,” said mayor Victor Cumming.

That street cleaning work will continue seven days a week until mid-to-late April, when the job is done.

“We know that dust is a problem,” Cumming said.

“We feel for those who are affected by dust in the air.”

In Vernon, official air quality measurements are taken from the Okanagan Science Centre on Highway 6. Megan Turcato / Global News

The city believes the apparent increase in dusty days in recent years may be because more traction material is being laid down on local roads when temperatures sit around zero over the winter.

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“That’s why you are probably seeing more [dust] than you’ve seen in the past, because at minus eight or minus 10, it is handled in a different way,” Cumming said.

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That’s city roads. Highways, however, are the province’s responsibility.

The Transportation Ministry says its contractors usually wait until after any spring snowfalls before collecting sand and gravel.

That provincial road cleaning is expected to happen in Vernon “in the coming weeks,” according to the Transportation Ministry.

The good news for Vernon residents is there is rain in the forecast on Friday evening and early in the day on Saturday.

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Veale is hoping that will be enough to knock down the dust and allow him to lift the advisory on Saturday morning.

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