‘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. “



[email protected]

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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 Native Basketball: Finals matchups start to take shape as title games approach

Two Prince Rupert sides in contention, while two dynasties are on the brink

CN blockade taken down as federal, provincial representatives agree to meet with hereditary chiefs

CN blockade taken down as federal, provincial representatives agree to meet with hereditary chiefs

All Native Basketball Days 2-3: Intermediate Division

Six Bella Coola players hit double figures during their winning game against Kitamaat

All Native Basketball Tournament: Day 1

Prince Rupert Rain score blowout victory as Women’s division kicks off in full swing

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

Murder of sex worker exposes Canada’s hypocrisy on prostitution: advocate

A 2014 law made purchasing sex or benefiting from the selling of sex illegal

Wet’suwet’en return to northern B.C. forest road pipeline workers move through: First Nation

Opponents of a pipeline who support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have reoccupied camps at centre of arrests

Over a dozen birds found mysteriously dead on rural B.C road

Ministry of Agriculture notified of the strange occurrence on No. 4 Road in Abbotsford

B.C. men arrested after theft of heavy equipment leads to highway blockade

One man surrendered to police while the other was taken into custody the next morning, RCMP say

PHOTOS: Trans Mountain hosts mock oil spill response practice in Kamloops

Practice comes after an excavator accidentally struck the pipeline near Jacko Lake in mid-February

Federal Indigenous services minister meets First Nation at rail blockade

Blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ont., is in its 10th day

Canada’s flag was flown for first time 55 years ago today

The flag is used to celebrate wins in sports, honour Canada Day, and flown at half-mast after tragedy

Most Read