Outdoor agricultural burning may be a nuisance and may be noxious, but it’s a necessity for farmers getting rid of waste material.
Or is it?
The Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) has identified a proponent through a request for proposals (RFP) process to study alternatives to open burning.
“The Fraser Valley is one of the most sensitive airsheds within the Province, subject to multiple sources of emissions of both local and external origins,” the RFP overview states. “One of the key concerns pertains to inhalable particulate matter (PM2.5), typically derived from combustion, including open burning of organic material.”
Previous studies on the subject found up to seven per cent of particulate matter (PM) in the air in the region can be attributed to open burning emissions. But according to an SNC Lavalin study from last year, precisely the impact on both air quality and climate change are hard to nail down.
“Taken as a whole, open burning emissions have a significant PM footprint and a climate change footprint that is difficult to establish at this time,” according to the study’s author. “The air toxics footprint relates strongly to the amount of garbage that may be included with the biomass and this is currently not possible to estimate.”
One of the recommendations from that study was that the FVRD explore options to burning. What the alternative could or would be is for the proponent of the new study to figure out. Wood chipping is usually the first one that comes to mind, but any chipping system will almost certainly come with added costs.
The RFP put out in September with a deadline of Oct. 2, is for the provision of a feasibility study “to assess the alternatives to open burning of agricultural wood waste, which may include wood chipping, composting, or other out-of-the box alternatives.”
But while the FVRD has authority over air quality planning in the region, there is the jurisdictional matter regarding agricultural burning in particular, which is somewhat more complicated.
The provincial Ministry of Environment is in charge of regulations over emissions, and individual municipalities may have more stringent rules on burning or smoke.
“We can’t really regulate agricultural burning, but the aim would be to help educate the community about the danger of exposure to wood smoke, and encourage alternatives to reduce pollution,” according to an FVRD spokesperson. “There are many alternatives for farmers and ways they can ensure best practices.”
Metro Vancouver has a regional bylaw that includes open burning, but the FVRD does not.
How exactly a new program would be rolled out in a way to get co-operation from farmers is an open question.
In the SNC Lavalin study, anecdotal reports from the fire officials in Chilliwack and Abbotsford pointed to a “culture of burning” that exists.
“[T]herefore an aggressive program to shift residents from this mindset is needed in some areas, in step with policy changes that aim to reduce open burning.”
In Chilliwack, an outdoor air burning byalw came into effect in 2008. That eliminated land clearing burning and allowed open air burning with a permit over two seasons: March and April, and October and November. Burning is only permitted when the Environment Canada venting index is “good” or “fair.”
Outdoor air burning in Abbotsford is allowed with a permit from Oct. 1 to May 31 under similarly strict conditions.
Open air burning is not permitted in urban areas in either Abbotsford or Chilliwack.
The expected completion date of the FVRD’s final report on open burning is set for Jan. 29, 2018.