‘When you have access to an electron microscope, you try to think of all the cool things you could look at,” said Dr. Mike Kraft of the University of Western Washington, who took a very close look at the pollution from B.C. wildfires. Courtesy UWW

VIDEO: A close look at what you were breathing during the B.C. wildfire season

Electron microscope images show soot and tar particles generated by worst B.C. fire season

A high-powered microscope in a U.S. university has provided a disturbing close-up look at the pollution from the worst wildfire season in B.C. history.

During the height of the forest fire season, when hundreds of blazes were sending thick clouds of smoke rolling across the province, a researcher at the University of Western Washington in Bellingham decided to take a closer look at the particles people were breathing in.

In August, when the pollution from the burning B.C. forests drifted into Washington state, Dr. Mike Kraft, a research associate at Western Washington University (WWU), collected some samples and ran them through the university’s new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).

At the time, there were advisories on both sides of the border for people with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease, as well as infants and the elderly, who were advised to avoid strenuous exercise or spending long periods of time outside until the smoke lifted.

Air in Whatcom County was rated “hazardous” for particulates.

Metro Vancouver air quality was rated worse than Los Angels and Beijing.

It wasn’t hard to gather samples, Kraft said.

He simply stood outside with a a filter.

Magnified many thousands of times, the electron microscope images reveal dark, dirty and jagged contaminants, too small to be seen to by the naked eye, covered in tar and soot and easily inhaled.

“When you have access to an electron microscope, you try to think of all the cool things you could look at,” Kraft said.

“I thought there would be broad interest in seeing what makes up the smoke that has been a universal experience in this region. It is good for people to understand what is in the world around them.”

Kraft said the reaction to the images has been really positive, “even if people find what we had been breathing pretty disturbing.”

READ MORE: 2018 now B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record

READ MORE: Trapped indoors: smoke from wildfires especially hard on Langley man with respiratory problems

The images were collected as grayscale but were colourized after the fact, to highlight the particles, Kraft said.

“For reference, the particles are about the size of bacteria or smaller, and roughly 20-100 times smaller than the width of a human hair.”

While there were also forest fires burning in Washington state, near coastal areas like Bellingham, it is believed the majority of the smoke was coming from B.C.

“The particles I looked at are common to wildfires, as best I can tell, and they should be representative of the smoke in B.C.,” Kraft said, though it is possible the particles were larger nearer the source.

”I suspect they are fairly similar. “



dan.ferguson@langleytimes.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

30,000 times magnification of 1 micron soot particle. Courtesy UWW

Soot and small, jagged pieces woody debris from wildfire smoke, magnified 15,000 times. Courtesy Western Washington University

25,000 times magnification of a 2 micron soot particle “coated with tar-like goo” Courtesy UWW

80,000 times magnification of 100 nanometer-wide soot particle. Courtesy UWW

Just Posted

All Nations Driving Academy gets $360K boost from province

Terrace-based driving school bridges gap in services for remote northwest B.C. communities

Skeena Watershed reopened for recreational pink and coho

Four sections and tributaries remain closed

Skeena-Bulkley Valley candidates react to finding Trudeau broke ethics law

The election campaign is heating up before the writ has even dropped

Body of ATV rider recovered from bottom of Terrace trail

BC Coroners Service investigating death of man in his 70s

All Nations, Haisla teams hoop basketball tournament titles

Eighteen teams across two divisions faced off Aug. 8-10

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read