Cannabis breeding and genetics centre creates three new strains for Aurora Cannabis

Cannabis breeding and genetics centre creates three new strains for Aurora Cannabis

Photo Caption

Cannabis breeding and genetics centre creates three new strains for Aurora Cannabis

By George Le Masurier

When Decafnation last reported on the Cannabis Innovation Centre in the spring of 2019, construction of the 32,200 square foot facility had just gotten underway and its ownership was in transition from Jon Page’s original Anandia Labs to the publicly-traded company Aurora Cannabis.

Since then, the pioneering breeding and genetics program at the centre, led by Greg Baute, PhD, got underway in February 2020 with a team of seven scientists and a dozen cultivation and operational personnel. Their early work has already culminated in the creation of three new cannabis cultivars that Aurora will release to consumers this month.

Aurora held a virtual media event this week to introduce the trio of unique cultivars — Stonefruit Sunset, Lemon Rocket and Driftwood Diesel — which have attracted widespread interest within the cannabis community. They are being marketed under the brand name, San Rafael.

They are the first of many new cultivars that Baute expects to breed on a regular basis.

The term ‘cultivar’ is short for cultivated variety and refers to a plant propagated for its desirable characteristics, such as THC or CBD content or aroma. They are commonly referred to as strains.

READ MORE: Vanier grad builds cannabis science hub in Comox

READ MORE: CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding

But the event also offered a first look inside the finished centre, now renamed Aurora Coast. A short video played at the media event showed Aurora Coast’s large expanse of cannabis plants stretched out across the 21,700 square foot greenhouse and illuminated by endless banks of LED lights and complex irrigation systems.

Aurora Coast exists in the Comox Valley because the breeding and genetics centre is the brainchild of G.P. Vanier grad Jon Page, PhD, who in 2009 became the first scientist in the world to sequence the 30,000 genes in the cannabis genome.

Jon and his twin brother Nick, who is now the general manager of the Aurora Coast facility, grew up on Headquarters Road and attended Tsolum Elementary and Vanier High School. Jon earned his PhD in Botany at UBC and in 2013 co-founded Anandia Labs in Vancouver as a cannabis testing and research laboratory.

But Page envisioned a larger facility for the pure science of discovering how the cannabis plant works, its breeding and genetics, and how to improve it as a commercial product. He had acquired the land near the Comox Airport and began building what he originally called the Anandia Cannabis Innovation Centre.

Then, in early 2019, Aurora Cannabis acquired Anandia for about $115 million in stock. Jon Page was initially Aurora’s chief scientist and now is a senior science advisor for the company founded in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Cannabis Innovation Centre construction underway












The word cultivar means a cultivated variety; thus, a cultivar is selected and cultivated by humans. Although some cultivars can occur in nature as plant mutations, most cultivars are developed by plant breeders and are called hybrids.

A first-generation hybrid occurs when a breeder selects two pure lines (plants that would produce identical offspring when self-pollinated) and cross-pollinates them to produce a new plant that combines desirable characteristics from both parents. One major thing to remember is if new plants are grown from the seeds of a cultivar, rarely, if ever, do the new plants develop true-to-seed. True-to-seed simply means the offspring is genetically the same as the parent. To cultivate a true-to-seed type offspring (a clone) from cultivars, one would have to be vegetatively grown, such as from cuttings, grafting, or tissue cultures.

— Yard and Garden



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More Culture | Top Feature
Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

The BC Ministry of Mines continues to market the Quinsam Coal mine site after its bankruptcy in 2019  |  Submitted photo

Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities


Given the number and variety of government and commercial projects with the potential for negative environmental impacts these days, it’s difficult for any individual to stay informed.

But for the last 40 years, the Campbell River Environmental Committee has taken on the burden of informing the public about current and future environmental risks. And it has promoted environmental awareness among businesses, local government and the general public to make informed decisions.

The CREC’s current priorities include siting of a compost facility near residences, the hazards of biosolids, changes at a gravel pit that may impact Campbell River’s drinking water, provincial marketing of the defunct Quinsam Coal mine whose waste pollutes the Quinsam and Campbell rivers.

They are also concerned about tailings from the Myra Falls mine flowing into Buttle Lake and new activities on the former pulp and paper mill property.




The Comox Valley Regional District has applied to the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to construct a compost facility on land next to the Campbell River Landfill. The application falls under the authority of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board (CSWMB). The facility will take organics from the municipalities. BC government guidelines for compost facilities suggest setbacks from residences at 400 to 1000 meters from a residence. The CSWMB considered two sites, one 500 meters from residences and the other less than 300 meters from a residence. The CSWMB made the decision to construct this new facility where a home and family are within 300 meters.

Staff and their consultants are confident that odour (which carries airborne emissions including Volatile Organic Compounds) will be contained. CREC’s research of compost facilities existing in other locations has odour complaints from homeowners living 350 to 500 meters from composting operations.

Another issue in the composting process is possible fires. At this site beside the Campbell River Landfill, the absence of hydrants and a sprinkler system is a concern for fire suppression. This is a heavily forested area. Should a fire reach the crowns of the large trees, it could head to the neighbours or burn northeast to Elk Falls Park. Interesting to note there will be a fee on property taxes for the compost service to homeowners of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and Campbell River. Tell your local government and the MOE what you think.




CREC is concerned about the practice of spreading biosolids on forestry lands and for closure cover of mines and landfills. Important to note – the disposal of this end product from the municipal sewage system has many applications including to Agricultural Land Reserve farm land and in general is regarded as a fertilizer and a soil builder.

We are especially concerned about the lack of testing for substances found in biosolids such as pharmaceuticals, steroids, hormones and PFAS (Per-and Polyfluorinated Alkyl substances), also known as the “Forever Chemicals”, as documented in the November 15, 2018 EPA study titled, “Office of Inspector General-EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment.”

If you walk through a hardware store be aware that every liquid on their shelves could potentially find its way into the sewer system and therefore show up in biosolids. A similar walk-through any drugstore will remind you that pharmaceuticals and chemicals sold there might also become a part of biosolids.

When applied to fields and gardens, biosolids can show up in our food supply, water supply and in some cases become airborne.

CREC has been researching biosolids for the past year and has learned from numerous university and government agencies studies that biosolids can be hazardous to humans, the environment and wildlife.




It is safe to say nearly every community has or will have to deal with an exhausted porous gravel pit. The options are limited; face the costly closure and reclamation or, the most popular option for the owner, fill it with waste and collect landfill tipping fees. The Ministry of Environment permitted a landfill in the gravel pit adjacent to McIvor Lake (which flows to Campbell River’s drinking water intake).

At this point, the City of Campbell River retains zoning control of the site. However, Upland submitted a new mine application to the Ministry of Mines and – if the mine plan is approved- the City’s zoning may cease to apply to the site.

CREC’s focus of concern at this site is the possible effect of the proposed landfill leachate on Campbell River’s drinking water and the associated aquifers. Those aquifers feed local streams including Cold Creek which is the source of the Quinsam River Hatchery’s groundwater for Salmonid incubation. Our second focus is finding a reason for the unexplained higher-than-normal heavy metal concentrations sampled from the bottom of Rico Lake, which flows into McIvor Lake, and is adjacent to the permitted landfill and the mine application.




The Quinsam Coal Mine (QC) opened in 1986. Following an extensive public inquiry, the inquiry chairman declared that “the Quinsam River and its watershed are very sensitive to environmental damage” and “A properly designed and implemented mining plan should virtually assure the prevention of the formation of acid waters.”

Operations went from an open pit to an underground coal mine in the early 1990’s. After QC reported elevated sulphate levels in Long Lake, CREC enlisted the expertise of Dr. William Cullen of the Canadian Watershed Network. His research found high levels of arsenic and other metals in the sediment of Long Lake due to seepage from the companies underground 2 South Mine.

As a result, QC was required to collect and treat the seepage.

Acid rock drainage which generates acid leachate enters the groundwater: this leachate problem has no end date. QC declared bankruptcy in 2019. Nearly two years later, the Ministry of Mines continues to market this mine site. The water from this mine site flows into the Quinsam River to the Campbell River. Both rivers are jewels of the community and have high value as commercial and recreational assets.

After 14 years of annual meetings, the public annual Environmental Technical Review Committee meeting for 2020 was canceled by the Ministry of Mines, despite the ease and availability to meet electronically. A skeleton crew remains at the mine, sampling and producing reports which CREC receives.




The Myra Falls polymetallic mine is “Of interest” to the CREC as it is the only mine in British Columbia situated in a Provincial Park.

With the mine operation start up in 1966, the tailings were dumped directly into Buttle Lake at the mouth of Myra Creek. This practice was halted in 1984. Subsequent mine tailings were stored behind a berm in a tailings pond.

As of January 2021, the berm of this tailing pond was 43 meters high (142 ft or 14 stories in height). The rise (or increase) for the 2021 season April – September will be 5 meters. The plan for this tailings pond is a maximum height of 57 meters (188 ft). At this planned maximum height this berm will be the physical barrier for 1.5 million cubic meters of tailings.

CREC has been advised that the tailings pond is well constructed to safely contain 1.7 million cubic meters. In comparison, the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach devastated Hazeltine Creek with 25 million cubic meters flowing into Quesnel Lake. A concern unique to the Myra Falls location is the excessive amount of water flowing off the mountain above the mine; this flow must be controlled and managed.

A high priority and ongoing challenge at this mine is the management of the volume and the quality of water Trafigura (the operators) release into Buttle Lake. An aside – in 1988, a second mine was proposed for Strathcona Park; this time a silver mine at Cream Lake. In response, residents of both Campbell River and Comox Valley formed a blockade and 64 people were arrested. This was the first time in Canadian history anyone was jailed for protecting a park.




Discovery Park occupies the site of the former Catalyst pulp and paper mill. The owners of this site, Rockyview Resources, are looking for income-generating opportunities. The Ministry of Environment approved an expansion to the landfill in 2018.

The recent extensive improvements to Discovery Park’s leachate capture, monitoring wells and treatment system makes this industrial site suitable for an expansion to their existing landfill. This has been an industrial site since 1952 when the pulp and paper mill started. Based on the science and the fact that the drainage is away from residences, CREC does not oppose the application currently before the City for landfill zoning.









CREC is a non-profit society, which began in the early 1970s, working on environmental issues in the Campbell River area. Our mandate is to collaborate with governments, organizations and the public for the best environmental outcome. Our focus is the water, especially the protection, security and safety of drinking water. Our approach is science-based, factual research. We make effort to leave the emotional content at the door – and work with the best science.

CREC members contribute to community committees providing oversight, advice and planning. CREC is a member of the BC Mining Law Reform Network. In community service, we become involved in a broad range of activities: site visits to industrial operations; writing letters and reports; meeting with all levels of government; working with hydrologists, geoscientists, and forestry professionals.

On the community side, CREC meets with multiple stakeholders in the stewardship and the protection of our watersheds.

We are a non-profit, 100 percent volunteer Society. We are always looking for like-minded individuals to join us in the stewardship of our watersheds. When you have the time or the sudden urge to join us, find CREC online on Facebook or at our website. Or, we can be reach via email at:



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More Environment | Latest Feature
Our Earth Day announcement: forgoing journalism to spend more time with family, nature

Our Earth Day announcement: forgoing journalism to spend more time with family, nature

Earth Day 2021 — It’s time to wake up and smell the flowers  |  George Le Masurier photo

Our Earth Day announcement: forgoing journalism to spend more time with family, nature

By George Le Masurier

Today is Earth Day. It’s a fitting time to explain the recent absence of new journalism projects on Decafnation and what to expect in the future.

For the past two months, I’ve been planting trees — 50 of them to be exact. Most are Cypress Leylandii that will provide a border of sorts for a small, natural forested area on our property that we’re trying to keep intact. But the list also includes apple and pear trees and other coniferous varieties, some bamboo and evergreen shrubs.

I’ve found this work pleasantly satisfying on many levels, and it has not left room for journalism. Doing the research for an in-depth series of articles is time-consuming and I never aspired for Decafnation to become a full-time endeavour. But the need for quality reporting here has been that dire.

Since 2016, Decafnation has tried to add some depth to the paper-thin reporting in the local Comox Valley newspaper and radio stations. We’ve focused our attention on stories like the seriously flawed 2014-15 plan to patch the sewer pipes serving mainly Courtenay and Comox and how local governments have and are still failing to address the negative effects of dumping toxic stormwater into our waterways.

We uncovered the botched planning of the new Comox Valley Hospital and the ongoing travesty of the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s myopic plan to reduce onsite health care services in the North Island.

We shone a bright light on the out-of-control Economic Development Society.

We went deep during the 2018 local government elections and endorsed progressive candidates that brought noticeable change to Courtenay, the regional district and Cumberland, but not to Comox.

We have championed a call for the Town of Comox to reconcile its moral and legal obligations to their trust agreement with Hamilton Mack Laing. We explored the need for improved sexual health education in District 71 schools. And we’ve written about interesting people such as Father Charles Brandt, Dr Jonathan Page and more.

But we won’t be doing those types of stories any more.

During this last year, we’ve abided by the provincial health orders to stay home and that has meant not seeing our children or grandchildren. This has created not just a longing for family, but also the realization that being well into the seventh decade of life, our time is short. How to use what’s left of it has become a priority.

We will still publish commentary on important issues and plan to play an active role in the 2022 local government elections. And we’ll try to accommodate people and organizations who want to submit articles for publication here, so you will still see an email newsletter from us every so often.

But for now, the woodpecker working on the fallen tree in our mini-forest is calling me back outside.



Millions of people participated in a first-ever annual grassroots demonstration 51 years ago on April 22 to raise awareness about environmental concerns. They called it Earth Day.

At the time, in 1970, the message focused on saving the whales and cleaning the trash out of rivers. The public service announcements of the era featured an American Indian saddened to find garbage in a once-pristine river full of fish and a cute owl that said, “Give a hoot – don’t pollute.”

Then everyone went home and squirted chlorofluorocarbons inside their ovens and into their hair, which eventually ate holes in our atmosphere’s ozone layer. We turned on electrical lights powered by coal. We clear cut forests. We dumped the toxic rainwater washing over polluted streets and parking lots into our waterways that killed the fish and, we now know, is also killing the whales.

The sorry list goes on and on. There was so much we didn’t know then about how we were degrading the Earth.

The popular adage “Reuse-Recycle-Reduce” that every elementary student knows so well today was a foreign concept when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, was considered a radical. Nelson’s genius was to capture the youthful anti-Vietnam War energy and shift it to environmental causes.

Today, our knowledge of how human activity has pushed irreversible climate change to the brink and threatens our own existence has increased a thousand-fold since 1970. So do we still need an Earth Day?

Unfortunately, yes, we do more than ever.

Even though we have made great strides toward reducing some of the ways humans harm Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystem, the really hard work lies ahead. Reducing the number of carbon emissions necessary to head off a catastrophic future of unbearable heat and diminished clean water will require a global effort and a common purpose.

But here we are, a half-century since Gaylord Nelson rang the environmental alarm bell, and considering the big picture, not much has changed. Humankind has not united and acted with urgency. Our economic system based on everlasting growth won’t allow it.

Some experts believe it is too late to reverse the effects of climate change and that humans must now learn to adapt in order to survive.

In his review of a new book, Earth 2020: An insider’s guide to a rapidly changing planet, Dr. Loys Maingon, a Comox Valley naturalist and biologist, writes:

“This is not a really optimistic book. Nor should it be. The realism laid out by climatologist Tapio Schneider in his essay “Climate 1970-2020” is exemplary. He pulls no punches and makes it clear to the reader that there will be none of the quick fixes that politicians promise, or have been promising for the past four decades.

“Schneider makes the case that we have shut doors and burnt bridges. We have reached a turning point from which there is now no going back. We will need to adapt. As Schneider point out, “Mitigation was the focus of 1992.” 28 years on, the mitigation bridge is burnt down.

“We need to confront severe changes, because “limiting global warming to 2C above industrial levels will be extremely challenging, if not impossible.”

So, yes, we still need a day to celebrate the progress we have made and to create awareness of the unimaginable challenges that lie ahead. And, by the way, the whales are still in danger.



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The Week: Take our local government survey!

Are you satisfied with the performance of your Comox Valley elected officials? In 20 months and three weeks, voters will go to the polls again. So we’re curious how Decafnation readers feel about their councillors, mayors, directors and school trustees halfway through their current terms in office

Comox Valley social activist Wayne Bradley dies after short battle with cancer

Comox Valley social activist Wayne Bradley dies after short battle with cancer

Wayne and Janet Fairbanks  |  Photo courtesy of

Comox Valley social activist Wayne Bradley dies after short battle with cancer


Wayne Bradley passed away on April 3rd of this year. He was informed by his GP in mid-March, after consultation and imaging that he had a growth on his pancreas and nodules on his liver. Pancreatic cancer metastasized to the liver is absolutely unforgiving especially with a late diagnosis. It has the reputation of being a cancer that kills quickly. In Wayne’s case, there was barely three weeks between diagnosis and his death at the hospice in Comox.

Wayne was two years and a day younger than me. We were both involved in social activism of one sort or another. You may have seen Wayne with Janet (his wife) selling coffee and chocolates at various events in the Valley. Carolyn and I were quizmasters at the Cumberland Forest Society’s trivia nights some time ago now, on one occasion, Wayne and Janet were there at the back of the hall with a table set up to sell World Community products. They only did the coffee and choc sales once at Trivia but had those sales regularly at Miners’ Memorial events such as Songs of the Workers.

The last time I spoke with Wayne was on our deck on the occasion of a Home and Garden Show in 2019. This was Carolyn’s last appearance in the Cumberland Forest Society Home and Garden Show. We sat around drinking tea and chatting. I was not doing well at that time and a diagnosis of multiple myeloma in October provided the reason for my ill health. I recall that Wayne was very keen to talk about electric vehicles. We were definitely interested in electric vehicles but were cautious about making that kind of investment one of the reasons being that the property was not wired for it. It is now, but we’ve moved on because of my cancer diagnosis and other reasons.

My type of bone marrow cancer leaves me completely exhausted and dizzy. That, on top of the pandemic, made it so that we were pretty much in isolation. So the summer of 2019 was the last time we saw Wayne and Janet. We (our son-in-law) bought tickets to the World Community Film Festival this past February but that was an online event.

Wayne suffered from abdominal, back pain and utter exhaustion in the last weeks of his life. That is common with pancreatic cancer, but Janet told me that strokes are also common with this disease. I had no idea. Wayne suffered a debilitating stroke on March 30th, and he was gone in just a few days.

Death in these circumstances is expected but still shocks. We all die, but the circumstances will have something to do with how well the family is prepared for a close relative dying. My type of cancer is treatable with chemotherapy and can go on for years, plenty of time to prepare for dying but when I die I’m sure it will still be a shocker for the family. Unlike myeloma, pancreatic cancer doesn’t generally allow for years of grieving. In a way that may be a blessing.

Wayne was a great guy. He was committed to his community and worked tirelessly for the good of his community but also for communities far and wide, those involved in the coffee and chocolate trade. Janet was Wayne’s partner at World Community but both were involved in other initiatives over the years. They were seldom far from the action.

Hearing of Wayne’s illness and death was certainly a shock. Cancer is often very difficult to diagnose and once diagnosed it’s often too late to do anything about it. According to Johns Hopkins Hospital, eighty percent of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed at Stage IV, when the prognosis is bleak.

Wayne will be sorely missed by family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. He was a man of integrity, strength and determination. He was a good man.

Reprinted with permission by Roger Albert. You can read more from Roger Albert’s blog here.


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Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

Burning wood has a romantic aura about it for some, but for others, the smoke causes multiple, serious health hazards  |  George Le Masurier photo

Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective


This article has been updated.

The days when Comox Valley people burned wood for cooking and heating out of necessity have long gone. But the romantic notion of chopping and stacking firewood to burn in fireplaces and woodstoves over damp West Coast winters has lingered on in the Comox Valley. The Village of Cumberland even celebrates woodstove culture with an annual festival.

But what was once a means of survival is now regarded as a health hazard.

Smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces is the largest driver of the Comox Valley’s air pollution, creating winter air quality that is at times some of the worst in the province. Temperature inversions, the shape of the Comox Valley and periods of calm air in winter all contribute to the problem, according to the regional district.

And it is this resulting haze that is linked to a litany of health problems.

Ultrafine particles – called PM 2.5 – penetrate deep into lung tissue and can trigger heart attacks, strokes, worsen asthma, and diminish lung function. Long-term exposure to wood smoke can cause emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis, and heighten the risk of dementia and cancer.

“We are not going backwards” — Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird

Children are particularly affected. The ultrafine particulates in wood smoke have been shown to lower birth weights, increase infant mortality and stunt lung development and function.

To cap this harmful pollution, Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland have all passed bylaws since 2018 banning wood stove installations in new homes. Courtenay and Comox bylaws go further, prohibiting wood stoves in renovations as well.

That’s raised the hackles of the Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association of Canada (HPBAC). The Ontario-based trade group, with members in the Comox Valley, recently launched a media campaign to have Comox Valley’s wood stove bans overturned.

On a new website and in radio and print advertising, the HPBAC says the bans unfairly prohibit residents from installing new “clean burning” wood stoves certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The “Overturn the Ban” campaign website also stresses the economy of wood heat, claims local wood stove businesses will “suffer unnecessarily” under a ban, and declares that “Burning wood is a way of life.”

The HPBAC did not respond to an interview request by the publication deadline.

Smoke from woodstoves is the top cause of poor air quality during Comox Valley winters | Ravi Pinisetti photo, Unsplash



Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells has called the woodstove industry’s campaign misleading.

“The majority of emails I’ve received from the public on this topic are from people who assume the City of Courtenay is banning all wood stoves, based on the ad campaign that’s been running in the Comox Valley,” Wells told Decafnation.

But in fact, Courtenay City Council has updated its Building Bylaw to prohibit the installation of wood stoves in new construction and requires a building permit to fix or replace an existing wood-burning appliance to ensure that the new appliance meets CSA standards.

“Council will not revisit this decision,” Wells said.

And he has requested the industry association to alter their campaign to remove the claim that local governments do not allow upgrades.

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird said the industry campaign to overturn the local bans on wood stoves in new construction “is not sending the right message to residents.”

“Each council (Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland) did their due diligence in making their decision,” she told Decafnation. “I am not reconsidering my position and I will not ask Council to reconsider our decision.”

Baird said Cumberland councillors listened to Public Health Officials about the adverse effects of woodsmoke, including the latest reports and studies on the cost to the BC healthcare system.

“How many years did it take for citizens to realize the effects of cigarettes on our health?” she said. “This is the same issue.”

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott refused to comment for this story.

Comox Valley Regional District Chair Jesse Ketler said that regional directors reviewed scientific studies and local air quality testing results before making their decision to offer rebates for replacing five-year-old or more woodstoves used for home heating with a cleaner fuel source, such as gas, pellet, propane or electric heat pump devices.

“As local government, we care about our airshed and have taken steps to reduce local air pollution. These are science-based decisions that are not likely to be reversed but could be improved with further input from our regional Airshed Roundtable,” Ketler said.



“Newer wood stoves meet stringent EPA emission standards,” said the industry’s Overturn The Ban website, that fall “well within or below acceptable particulate emissions standards per hour.”

But that’s not so, according to a landmark report published in March by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), a coalition of eight U.S. state air quality regulators.

After auditing the EPA’s testing and certification regime and re-testing over 250 EPA-certified stoves, the Boston-based organization found a “systemic failure of the entire certification process, including EPA’s oversight and enforcement of its requirements.”

That failure means there is “no confidence” that new EPA-certified stoves spew fewer particulates than the old appliances they are replacing, the report said.

“The unavoidable conclusion of this report is that EPA’s certification program to ensure new wood heaters meet clean air requirements is dysfunctional,” the report reads. “It is easily manipulated by manufacturers and testing laboratories. EPA has done little to no oversight and enforcement.”

“It’s bigger than just paperwork issues,” said Lisa Rector, a policy and program director at NESCAUM and lead author of the report. “There were many things done during the testing to reduce emissions, some of it allowed but not as intended, and other things not allowed.”

To achieve EPA certification, wood-burning appliances move through a Byzantine process involving multiple third parties and potential conflicts of interest. Since instituting emissions standards, the EPA hasn’t conducted a single audit to verify certification results, the report said, in a period of over 30 years.

Now, Rector said states under NESCAUM’s guidance have to figure out how to adapt the policy to accommodate the EPA’s failings until the EPA fixes the problem, which could take years.

The report has direct implications for the Comox Valley: “At its core, EPA’s program as currently run allows the continued sale and installation of high-emitting devices… Once installed, these units will remain in use, emitting pollution for decades to come.”

CVRD is one of two in the province to exclude woodstoves from the BC exchange program | George Le Masurier photo



Jennell Ellis, the spokesperson for the non-profit advocacy group Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, considers the NESCAUM report’s findings significant enough to refer to as “Woodstovegate,” but said other claims by the HPBAC don’t stand up to scrutiny either.

Namely, that it is unfair to restrict wood stoves because they are an inexpensive source of heat for lower-income residents.

Ellis said that although wood heat is cheap for those getting free wood, in reality, the heat source exacts a dear price from neighbours, communities, and society at large.

“In lower-income neighbourhoods, everyone is breathing the air, while only those who get free wood benefit,” she said.

Health Canada estimates air pollution causes 1,900 premature deaths in BC every year, while total health costs in Canada are pegged at $120 billion annually.

Education campaigns on wood seasoning and best burning practices are no panacea either, Ellis said, because some people refuse to change behaviours and because enforcement is difficult and shouldn’t fall on municipalities anyway.

“In order to get a clean-burning wood device, there are four things you need,” said Rector. “Good technology, good fuel, good installation, good operating practices. Modify any one of those – bad fuel, poor operation, bad technology, bad installation – will turn a device into a high emitting device.”



Finally, the NESCAUM study adds to a body of evidence calling into question the wisdom of subsidizing the change-out of old wood stoves for new ones.

In BC, an exchange program funded by the province and municipalities, and administered by the BC Lung Association, offers rebates for households upgrading from an old wood stove to a pellet stove, natural gas, propane, or electric heat pump. In most jurisdictions, the cost of new, EPA-certified wood stoves is also subsidized by $250-$500.

The Comox Valley Regional District and Sunshine Coast Regional District are the first in BC to exclude replacement wood stoves from the program.

“[The BC Lung Association] think it’s a form of harm reduction,” Ellis said. “We’re lobbying them and trying to convince them that it’s like telling people to smoke light cigarettes.”

A 2015 evaluation of BC’s Woodstove Exchange Program, covering 2008-2014 and commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, found, “there has not yet been a clear reduction in fine particulate matter pollution coming from residential wood stoves in BC.”

The evaluation speculates part of the lingering pollution could be due to a simultaneous increase in the number of households adopting wood heat but concedes poor wood-burning practices persisted despite a “significant effort” in education and outreach to teach clean-burning practices.

Another case study comes from Libby, Montana. The city of nearly 2,800 had over 1,200 non-EPA-certified wood stoves changed out for new units from 2005 to 2008. This was expected to lower the particulate emissions from wood stoves in the town by over three-quarters, but studies later showed an emissions drop of less than a third.



The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association appears to be fighting a losing battle. Local government leaders say the industry’s Overturn the Ban campaign hasn’t changed their minds.

Cumberland Mayor Baird said she has “no idea why they have chosen the Comox Valley to launch their campaign. We joined with the Comox Valley Regional District as did Courtenay and Comox to improve the air quality in our areas.”

“We are not going backwards,” she said.

CVRD Chair Ketler and Courtenay Mayor Wells both think the industry has targeted the Comox Valley because all three municipalities have created new bylaws that limit the use of wood stoves in new construction and they fear the precedent this sets for other BC municipalities.

This article was a journalistic collaboration between the Watershed Sentinel and Decafnation





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