The ins and outs of an air quality station

Last updated February 2, 2022
Reading time: 2 min

Did you know that there are 11 air quality stations in Montréal? Discover Station 55, located in Pointe-aux-Trembles. The Réseau de surveillance de la qualité de l’air (RSQA) monitors the concentration of pollutants in the air.

Meet two RSQA workers who process the daily analysis results collected at these facilities.

“When we install a station, our goal is to track the evolution of concentrations over the long term. We collect, retain and analyze data over time,” says Fabrice Godefroy, RSQA section head. “At Station 55, for example, we have been measuring the emission of particles related to wood heating, which are considered pollutants, since 1998.”

Audrey Giasson is a technician at the RSQA who makes the rounds of the air quality analysis stations. “On a typical day, we check to see if the equipment is responding well and if there are any anomalies in the network. We do preventive maintenance. We receive and process analytical results from the laboratory to perform monthly and daily checks.” The analysis results are automatically transmitted to Environment Canada’s Info-Smog program, which issues smog warnings in the Montréal area.

“The stations are equipped with a multitude of continuous analyzers that analyze one or more pollutants at a time. The analyzers then transmit their data to the station’s computer, which sends it to the server that collects all the results. Based on these results, we can calculate the air quality index for Montréal,” Fabrice Godefroy explains.

Station 55 is the only one that has a specific analyzer for wood heating. It measures fine particle emissions from wood-burning fireplaces, which are quite common in Pointe-aux-Trembles. “We adapt each station to its environment,” Godefroy says. “Each station is positioned in a different environment (industrial, residential, etc.) to get a complete picture of air quality in Montréal.”

Samplers installed on the roof of the station analyze fine particles in the air.

Air quality samples are taken every six days on filters that are analyzed in the laboratory. The whole process is automatic: All Audrey Giasson has to do is collect the data and bring them to the city laboratory.

“Our work is rarely routine. You can’t just stay in your comfort zone. Something unexpected always happens: A machine to repair, a device to calibrate, etc.,” Audrey Giasson points out.

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