Marine shipping is the main source of sulphur dioxide emissions in the Lower Mainland.

Marine shipping is the main source of sulphur dioxide emissions in the Lower Mainland.

Metro Vancouver to tighten sulphur dioxide emission limit

Pollutant that mainly comes from ships is a concern for Lower Mainland air quality, asthmatics

  • Dec. 1, 2014 2:00 p.m.

Current air quality guidelines for sulphur dioxide pollution levels in the Lower Mainland may be too low to adequately protect human health, according to a Metro Vancouver report.

The regional district, which regulates air quality within Metro and the Fraser Valley, is proposing to slash the maximum acceptable level of the pollutant from 174 parts per billion (ppb) to the same 75 ppb limit adopted in the U.S. in 2010.

Exposure to high levels of sulphur dioxide – most of which comes from shipping – can aggravate asthma and other respiratory problems.

The report says Metro’s existing maximum targets for sulphur dioxide are outdated as they were based on national targets drawn up in the 1970s and “may not be protective for all sensitive individuals, particularly asthmatics.”

The pollutant also acidifies soil and surface water, damages crops and trees and can damage or discolour structures and property. It can react with other substances to cause smog.

Nearly 80 per cent of sulphur dioxide emissions in the region came from the marine ships in 2010, followed by eight per cent from the Chevron oil refinery in Burnaby and three per cent from cement plants.

The current limit of 174 ppb averaged over one hour was exceeded twice last year in Burnaby’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood, which has the closest air quality monitoring station to the Chevron refinery.

If the lower 75 ppb limit had been in place there would have been 17 exceedances in 2013 – 15 at Capitol Hill and two in Port Moody.

“We are concerned about sulphur dioxide levels around Chevron,” said Ray Robb, Metro’s environmental regulation and enforcement division manager.

The maximum ambient air quality level for a pollutant like sulphur dioxide isn’t directly enforceable, nor does Metro issue tickets to ships when levels around Burrard Inlet get too high.

But excessive emissions traced to a specific regulated point source can prompt Metro to give the emitter a pollution abatement order to force it to clean up to get back in compliance with its permit, Robb said.

If existing emissions are often near or over the objective in a neighbourhood where a new industry is proposed, he said, that will guide permitting decisions, potentially prompting Metro to insist on much tighter emission controls as part of approving any new source.

Metro officials say the new lower target is achievable.

An ongoing international shift to low-sulphur marine fuel has been reducing the shipping sector’s emissions, which are by next year expected to be down 95 per cent from 2005 levels.

But while individual ships are getting cleaner, the overall number of them coming here is expected to climb as Port Metro Vancouver aims to increase trade through the region.

Kinder Morgan’s proposed second oil pipeline would also see it load 400 oil tankers a year, up from around 60 now.

“That’s one of our major concerns with the project – whether we can meet these standards if additional tanker traffic comes in,” said Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal, chair of Metro’s environment committee.

The new Metro standard would be an interim one at least until possible new national or provincial regulations take effect.

A Health Canada review has found a strong link between short-term sulphur dioxide exposure and adverse respiratory health effects, but it’s unclear when tighter Canadian regulations might be unveiled and adopted. The B.C. government is also reviewing provincial air quality objectives.

 

Metro Vancouver graphic.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Delta character - and former White Rock resident - Pansy May Stuttard inspects a loaded revolver in the cover photo for Jim Dwight and Gary Cullen’s fascinating biography, Lord don’t want me Devil won’t take me. Contributed photo
West Coast’s ‘Pistol-packin’ Pansy’ lives on in colourful biography

Infamous Delta character ended her days in White Rock and South Surrey

A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Reports of student attendance ‘dwindling’ at Surrey schools: teachers’ association

STA president said he’s heard from staff that students might not attend in-person for 4th quarter

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Chilliwack Search and Rescue volunteers say that a call on April 17 on Vedder Mountain was affected by bikers who rode through the rescue site, throwing rocks onto members and the patient. (Chilliwack Search and Rescue image)
Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and patient, sprayed with rocks and dirt during rescue

Volunteer crew speaks out after riders on Vedder Mountain show no courtesy at accident scene

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

File photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
One man dead after shooting in Downtown Vancouver

This is Vancouver’s fifth homicide of the year

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Most Read