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Two citizen-owned air quality sensors in Salmon Arm help fill monitor gap

Provincial monitors in Kamloops, Vernon don’t cover Shuswap atmosphere
A PurpleAir monitor measures air quality, not as precisely as government monitors, but provides a way for a local man to make comparisons. (Contributed)

With smoky skies leaving a visible veil of ashy evidence in Salmon Arm recently, the issue of air quality is in most residents’ faces.

Although Salmon Arm doesn’t have a provincial government air quality monitor like Kamloops or Vernon, Shuswap residents do have options for comparing the smoke they’re involuntarily inhaling.

Tim Lavery, Salmon Arm resident and city councillor, is one person who has translated his curiosity about air quality into action. He purchased a PurpleAir air quality sensor, a device about the size of a softball that measures particulate matter using a laser. It’s mounted outside, away from direct sunlight, with access to power and a good wifi signal.

Lavery’s sensor is one of two in Salmon Arm that can be viewed on the PurpleAir map. A third is visible in the Shuswap, at Scotch Creek.

Tim Lavery, in a 2019 photo during smokeless skies, pedals his cargo bike, spreading the word about the city’s new brand. (File photo)
Tim Lavery, in a 2019 photo during smokeless skies, pedals his cargo bike, spreading the word about the city’s new brand. (File photo)

He said while sensors like his are not as sophisticated or accurate as the ones used by B.C.’s environment ministry, a sensor can be compared to other sensors, and times can be compared.

“It’s described as crowd sourcing of air quality data on the internet,” Lavery said.

He said individuals and community organizations in other parts of the province are coming on board, providing a broader data base for communities.

He noted the Cowichan Valley Regional District has taken a community driven approach to using PurpleAir monitors throughout the region. Frequently asked questions on its website regarding PurpleAir monitors can be found at

In Revelstoke, a citizen has created an air quality website based on data from two monitors purchased by the community.

Lavery likens his interest in air quality to people’s interest in water when living in a watershed.

“Monitoring water quality is front and centre for most of us.”

He noted people also live in an airshed.

“How does air quality in our airshed differ between summer and winter, day and night? How does it compare to other regions? How does each sensor compare over time?”

Lavery said although he hasn’t fully researched PurpleAir yet, he believes it has a use but should be used with care when making scientific decisions.

“But for the average person, day to day, I think it works well…”

Lavery said the map data layer has a variety of conversions to use, so he recommends picking one set of data and sticking with it to start, in order to compare apples to apples. For instance, from the drop-down menu under ‘Map Data Layer,’ he has been using ‘US EPA PM2.5,’ ‘AQandU,’ ‘Standard’ and ‘One Hour Average.’

On July 28 about noon when this article was written, the one-hour average air quality at the two PurpleAir sensors in Salmon Arm was 196 and 194, in the high range. “Everyone may begin to experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” stated the warning.

The sensor at Scotch Creek was lower, at 171.

At the same time, the provincial air quality health index with data from Kamloops and Vernon showed both Kamloops and the North Okanagan at a ‘very high’ health risk.

Lavery said being able to access local data is important.

“This idea of citizen-generated and shared air quality data, so we can get more localized readings in our airshed is what I’m most interested in.”

Read more: Crowdfunded monitors provide insight on air quality in Revelstoke

Read more: Doctors, air pollution experts forecast worsening health effects of wildfire smoke
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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