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Better air monitoring project launches in memory of B.C. boy who died of asthma during wildfires

Nearly four months after the sudden and tragic death of their nine-year-old son due to a severe asthma attack, Amber and James Vigh want their community to have more precise air quality monitoring in place before the next wildfire season.

Carter's Project aims to improve air quality monitoring in 100 Mile House, B.C.

A young boy wears a black baseball cap, blue-rimmed glasses and a burgundy hoodie and smiles for a photo in a park.

Nearly four months after the sudden and tragic death of their nine-year-old son due to a severe asthma attack, Amber and James Vigh want their community to have more precise air quality monitoring in place before next year's wildfire season.

The couple, from 100 Mile House, B.C., have partnered with the B.C. Lung Foundationon a new initiative that aims to provide 100 personal air quality monitors to the community.

Named after their late son, Carter Vigh, Carter's Project also includes awareness programs on air quality and training for community members who will be using the monitors.

"My son would have moved mountains regardless. Now we are helping him move mountains even though he is not here," said James Vigh.

WATCH | The Vigh's discuss Carter's Project and their hopes for their son's legacy:

Parents of boy who died after asthma attack begin push for better air quality monitoring

20 hours ago

Duration 7:11

Featured VideoThe parents of Carter Vigh, a nine-year-old who died after a wildfire smoke induced asthma attack, have partnered with the B.C. Lung Foundation to provide personal air quality monitoring devices in rural communities.

Carter died July 11 from an asthma attack, which according to his parents was aggravated by the lingering wildfire smoke in the region.

Known as the most destructive wildfire season on record, over 25,000 square kilometres of forest burned this year — sending toxic plumes over cities and towns across the province.

On Carter's final day, his parents checked the Air Quality Health Index in the morning before he headed to the water park and a birthday party. They recall the reading indicated a low risk.

"We couldn't smell the smoke either so we figured we could take the kids out," said James.

The reading, however, was based on air quality measurements taken nearly 100 kilometres away in Williams Lake, B.C. — the closest air quality monitoring site to 100 Mile House.

Later that evening, as Amber recalls, Carter started coughing. The parents reacted as they usually did — they gave Carter his puffer, told him to concentrate on his breathing and ran him a cool bath to soothe any panic.

As the cough became progressively worse, he was taken to hospital, where he died that night.

In an email to CBC, the B.C. Coroners Service said an investigation into the cause and manner of death is ongoing.

Carter's father believes if there had been reliable air quality monitors closer to home, his son would still be with him.

B.C. Lung Foundation CEO Chris Lam says the monitoring station at Williams Lake does not provide dependable measurements for 100 Mile House.

"Air quality can change quite significantly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood," he said.

Air quality is typically monitored by federal and provincial governments through sophisticated equipment. According to Environment Canada, 286 sites in every province and territory make up the National Air Pollution Surveillance program.

However, there are gaps in coverage, according to Lam.

"[Government air quality monitors] are large, and while they do offer great deal of information, there's only so many of them in the province," he added.

With Carter's Project, Lam said the B.C. Lung Foundation and the Vigh family want to place personal air quality monitors in people's backyards.

100 Mile House Mayor Maureen Pinkney said she wasn't aware of Carter's Project but welcomes the idea.

"It's very exciting to hear about such an initiative," she said in a telephone interview with CBC. "It was a horrible time and the death of Carter Vigh was devastating."

Carter's Project will use outdoor monitors developed by Utah-based PurpleAir, which retail for roughly $300 per unit.

Fully subsidized by the B.C. Lung Foundation, 100 PurpleAir monitors will be available for 100 Mile House residents who will then be able to go online to assess air quality measured by the sensors spread across town.

PurpleAir monitors have also been used by the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), along with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), to create an air quality map that provides real-time data on the amount of fine particulate matter in the air at hundreds of locations across the country.

UNBC environmental science professor Peter Jackson, who led that project, said the low cost sensors are "actually quite accurate."

"Government monitors can cost between $25,000 to $50,000," he said in a telephone interview with CBC. "But smaller towns and rural areas that might be impacted by wildfire smoke often have no monitoring. So these low-cost sensors come in handy."

Lam said the B.C. Lung Foundation is hoping to get the air quality monitoring systems installed in 100 Mile House by March, ahead of the wildfire season.

"Carter's parents really stepped forward in the face of a tragedy, making sure that his death is going to help other people," said Lam.

With files from Sarah Penton, Catherine Rolfsen

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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