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Importance of Air Quality Monitoring During the Pandemic

In the midst of a global pandemic, the work of WCAS is more important than ever as air quality is critical for our health, particularly during a respiratory disease pandemic.
  • There is strong evidence to suggest that air pollution can increase susceptibility to respiratory viral infections by decreasing immune function.
  • We also know that poorer air quality will make things far more difficult for those battling COVID-19, particularly for the thousands of Albertans with chronic lung disease. 
  • An article from The Globe and Mail, March 27, 2020, “To help flatten the curve, let’s clean our air,” authored by three health experts states,
"SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease – acts principally by infecting the respiratory tract, and we know that the gases and particles in polluted air can worsen the effects of such infections. In 2003, elevated air-pollution exposure doubled the risk of death in those who had the SARS coronavirus. Such viruses also damage our natural defense systems: our lungs, the protective cells and fluid lining our airways, and the specialized proteins that fight against invading organisms."
  • While we are seeing generally lower levels of air pollution due to reduced transportation and industrial activity, there are instances of higher emissions from home heating, particularly wood burning, and open burning in agricultural areas. As well, it may not be long until we start seeing impacts from wildfires.
  • We encourage everyone to be mindful of their own activities and avoid unnecessary emissions, including wood burning if it is not your primary source of heating. 
  • You can continue accessing the Air Quality Health Index for many of our communities, which is made possible by the monitoring work of WCAS.

WCAS Business Continuity Plan and Pandemic Procedures

WCAS is one of ten Airsheds in Alberta. Together, we operate a network of over 75 continuous air monitoring stations and hundreds of sensor sites across Alberta. Our data is transparent and available live to anyone through each of our websites. This data along with a few urban stations operated by Alberta Environment and Parks, keeps Albertans informed of their community’s air quality. Given the importance of air data, we are committed to ensuring air quality monitoring continues at the high standards Alberta’s Airsheds are renown for, while ensuring our staff remain safe.

WCAS quickly adapted its operations to meet the health and safety demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 12, WCAS Executive Director, Gary Redmond issued new operational procedures and protocols for WCAS staff, which included:

Staff Health

  • WCAS staff have been advised that if they experience any cold or flu-like symptoms or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 to cease work immediately and follow Alberta Health Services guidance: on-line self assessment, call 811 (or in case of serious illness 911) and self-isolation for 14 days. WCAS will manage with reduced human resources and will work with other Airsheds to arrange mutual assistance if needed.  
Station Assignments
  • While we boast some of the most experienced and qualified air quality technicians in Alberta, we have also built a team comprised of members who bring other qualifications/skills to the job. Normally our staff rotate station visits to ensure our operations benefit from different perspectives, however, to minimize exposure risks, our technicians have now been assigned four stations each.
  • Technicians will not visit other stations unless absolutely required which will be considered on a case-by-case basis (with appropriate time lapse between technicians, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and extensive cleaning requirements).
  • Technicians have been provided disposable nitrile gloves, masks and cleaning materials in order to clean common touch points (e.g. door handles, counters and instrument controls).
  • WCAS technicians use their own (off-road capable) vehicles and at times travel together if a station visit requires more than one technician (e.g. equipment install and infrastructure repairs). While WCAS was investigating the use of shared lease vehicles we have delayed any possible changes so that technicians will continue to use their own vehicles.
  • Technicians will now not travel together in the same vehicle and any essential repairs requiring more than one technician will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if necessary social distancing can be maintained and/or additional PPE can be accessed and employed. Repairs may need to be delayed.
  • WCAS staff are often on the road for days at a time and stay in local hotels if necessary, but with concerns about the safety of rental accommodations, WCAS is investigating other options.
  • All meetings (e.g. Board, committee and staff) will be held by phone or video conferencing. 
  • All events including our Annual General Meeting, Clean Air Day and Community Trade Shows have been postponed. We are investigating alternative ways of engaging with communities. 

Changes to Environmental Monitoring and Reporting

On March 17, Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks issued a Ministerial Order suspending a number of environmental reporting requirements to avoid potential challenges during the pandemic. These included a temporary amendment of select requirements under Alberta’s Air Monitoring Directive, which provides the standards of air quality monitoring in Alberta.

The biggest changes included:
  • Reduction in the required frequency of calibrations as well as manifold cleaning and inlet filter replacement from monthly to quarterly.
  • Suspension of guideline exceedance reporting until September 2020. This means that 1-hour PM2.5 exceedances will no longer need to be reported; all other exceedances will still need to be reported but the 7-day letter is waived.
  • Airshed monthly reports have been given a two month extension.
In essence, these changes allow an Airshed to reduce activities if necessary due to absence of human resources or other factors related to the pandemic.
Airsheds are working together to keep operations running as normally as possible. In fact, while some field operations and data reporting requirements are reduced, daily operational activities are still required to ensure quality data is available to all stakeholders, including the public. 
On April 6, staff from each of the Airsheds met with Alberta Environment and Parks staff (via video conferencing) to clarify operational expectations. While some finer details of air monitoring operations still need to be sorted out, Airsheds were encouraged to continue ‘business as usual’ as much as possible.
“Alberta Environment and Parks understands the value that Airshed organizations provide for the collection of high quality air monitoring data. While understanding that Airsheds may need to reduce some of their activities as allowed by the temporary amendment to the Air Monitoring Directive, it is hoped that Airsheds can continue to provide the same high quality service as provided prior to this amendment. It is essential that AEP and Airsheds continue to work in partnership to assure that air quality data is available to the public.” 

Further to this, AEP confirmed that funding for Airsheds in 2020/21 through contracts and grants remains unaffected to ensure Alberta’s Airsheds can continue their vital operations.

New Operations Manager

WCAS is pleased to announce Robert Chrobak as our new Operations Manager. Many of you will already be familiar with Robert who joined WCAS two years ago as a technician. Robert has a Chemistry Degree from the University of Alberta and several years of chemical laboratory analysis and air quality monitoring experience throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In 2018, Robert was the recipient of an Award of Merit from the Consulting Engineers of Alberta as the Project Coordinator for Fort McKay First Nation’s Ambient Air Monitoring project at Namur Lake - the first off-the-grid monitoring station in Alberta. In his new role, Robert will continue doing hands-on work as a technician, but will also oversee field operations as the Operations Manager.

Alberta's Airsheds are working together to ensure that air quality monitoring remains a priority. Learn more about Alberta's Airsheds at

Learn More About WCAS
Copyright © 2019 West Central Airshed Society, All rights reserved.
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153, 9218 Ellerslie Road SW
Edmonton, AB  T6X 0K6
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West Central Airshed Society · 8737 53 Avenue NW · Edmonton, AB T6E 5E9 · Canada

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