Air quality is monitored by Alberta Environment and Parks and airsheds using continuous air monitoring stations in more than 30 communities across Alberta. Real-time data from these continuous stations are used to inform the public on current air quality conditions through the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI).

During wildfire smoke events, portable air quality monitors can be deployed by AEP in areas not covered by permanent air monitoring stations. These instruments measure and report one-hour concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), one of the major components of smoke with a risk to human health.

As of March 2019, the Alberta wildfire season is underway. Smoke from several active wildfires in northern Alberta is causing poor air quality and reducing visibility. Alberta Environment and Parks has deployed portable fine particulate matter monitors in response to these concerns. As the wildfire season progresses, data from the portable fine particulate monitors may be provided from different localities around Alberta, depending on emergency response requirements. Daily summaries of the data collected by these monitors from May 23, 2019 to present are available.

For more information, this fact sheet provides background information about wildfire smoke and its effect on air quality in Alberta. It addresses the following questions:

  • How do we inform the public about health risk associated with wildfire smoke?
  • How often does wildfire smoke affect air quality in Alberta? Does this change year-to-year?
  • How do we monitor and forecast wildfire smoke?
  • How has wildfire activity changed since 1990?

 

Wildfire Smoke Research

Alberta Environment and Parks’ researchers are actively involved in studies about wildfire smoke and air quality. Recent publications examine fine particulate matter and other air pollutants during the Horse River Wildfire in the Fort McMurray area.

Tam, N., and Adams, C. 2019. Characterization of air quality during the 2016 Horse River Wildfire using permanent and portable monitoring. Government of Alberta, Ministry of Environment and Parks.

Briefing for policy practitioners: improving air quality monitoring for future wildfire smoke events. 2019. Government of Alberta, Ministry of Environment and Parks.

Adams et al. 2019. Satellite-derived emissions of carbon monoxide, ammonia, and nitrogen dioxide from the 2016 Horse River wildfire in the Fort McMurray area. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 19, 2577-2599.

Wentworth et al. 2018. Impacts of a large boreal wild fire on ground level atmospheric concentrations of PAHs, VOCs and ozone. Atmospheric Environment, 178, 19-30.

Landis et al. 2018. The impact of the 2016 Fort McMurray Horse River Wildfire on ambient air pollution levels in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Alberta, Canada. Science of the Total Environment, 618, 1665–1676.