Correction: The Guardian has amended the study and now says the World Health Organization corrected its figure for Courtenay's air particulates to 17 micrograms per metre. That does not place it in the top 10 for worst air quality in Canada and the United States.

A widely-read British newspaper has put Courtenay on an unfortunate top 10 list, claiming the Vancouver Island city has the second-worst air quality in Canada and the United States.

The Guardian published the results of the air quality study last week after gathering data on dangerous air particulates in cities around the continent.

The city was ranked higher than several places in California, one in Indiana, two in Pennsylvania, and Regina, Sask., the only other Canadian city named in the study.

When conditions align, the city can become smothered under a noticeably thick, hazy blanket of smoke.

“We have had four air quality advisories this winter. We have been over the B.C. air quality objective for well over two weeks’ worth of days. We had a high health risk warning many, many nights” said Jennell Ellis of the advocacy group Breathe Clean Air.

But even Ellis, who aims to educate people and politicians about the Comox Valley’s worsening air quality, says she’s skeptical about the Guardian report.

“Their numbers aren’t quite accurate and we might not be that bad, but we definitely have a problem here,” she said.

Jennell says the problem stems from the Comox Valley’s love of burning wood.

“According to the experts, it is wood smoke,” she said. “The open burning of big slash piles and land clearing, the backyard burning and then a lot of it is smoke from wood stoves.”

Smoky air also plagues the nearby village of Cumberland where residents banded together and approached councillors about banning backyard burning.

“There’s quite a few families where two, three family members have asthma and that’s really where this issue started and brought it to our attention,” said Evan Gough. “A lot of us realized there’s a lot of smoke. You can see it, you can smell it.”

The motion passed but Gough said he’d like to see more done, like having people switch over to natural gas or at least switch to newer, more efficient woodstoves.

Courtenay resident Gary Davis said he’s doing his part to raise more awareness of air quality issues, including installing his own monitoring equipment at his condo and streaming the readings in real time to a website called

“Sometimes the air’s so rough that my throat gets all scratch and I cough a lot, that sort of thing, and I wondered that was so I started to do a little investigating online,” said Davis.

He said being informed about the problem is only the start of the battle, and that more action needs to be taken to combat the poor air quality.

 With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Gord Kurbis