‘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

Nathan Cullen named Parliamentarian of the Year

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP won the top-title Nov. 5

VIDEO: Taking to the skies to protect moose in the Cariboo Chilcotin

Conservation Officer Service doubles patrols to oversee moose harvest

New Coast Guard radar boosts marine traffic monitoring off B.C. coast

Six radar installations set up for Georgia Strait to Queen Charlotte Strait to Prince Rupert

Central Coast Regional District swears in new Board of Directors

There are three new faces representing our region and two returning directors

VIDEO: Black horse signals ‘sign of peace’ for Tsilhqot’in Nation

Justin Trudeau rides black horse provided by Cooper family

Winter weather hits parts of Canada

As some parts of the country brace for cold, parts of B.C. remain warmer than 10 C

Canada’s health system commendable overall but barriers to care remain: UN

The United Nations says Canada’s health care system is “commendable” overall but vulnerable groups still face barriers to quality care.

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Kelly Ellard’s boyfriend has statutory release revoked

Darwin Duane Dorozan had several parole infractions that found him ‘unmanageable’

Doctor’s note shouldn’t be required to prove you’re sick: poll

70% of Canadians oppose allowing employers to make you get a sick note

German-born B.C. man warns against a ‘yes’ vote on proportional representation

Agassiz realtor Freddy Marks says PR in his home country shows party elites can never be voted out

Fashion Fridays: 5 coats you need this winter!

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Saskatchewan college honours memory of Humboldt Broncos coach

Darcy Haugan wore jersey No. 22 when he was a star player with the Briercrest College Clippers

Most Read