No one should have to breathe wood smoke


Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (  Letters – March, 2010

I appreciate E. Hawthorne’s supportive response to my letter on the growing problem of wood smoke pollution in our community.  With cleaner fuels available, no one should have to suffer the harmful effects of neighbourhood wood smoke.

In neighbourhoods now affected by the growing problem of wood burning pollution, the air can at times be filled with the foul, acrid smell of toxic wood smoke emissions.  Often it’s hard to know exactly where the smoke is coming from, and it’s even worse when several sites are burning at once, with all of that fine particle pollution going out into our city’s air, spreading out over nearby homes and other buildings, and even some playgrounds.

Residential wood smoke is a proven health risk for our most vulnerable residents, including people with respiratory health concerns, infants, and children.  As Ms. Hawthorne points out in her letter, it’s now also recognized as a major cause of smog.  The soot produced by wood burning has now even been identified as a factor in the issue of climate change.

Some supporters of urban wood burning feel they have a right to burn wood in their neighbourhoods, perhaps being unaware that the smoke is bad for the air and community health. It really does seem similar to the arguments cigarette smokers used to make in defence of smokers’ rights, before people were given much-needed protection from second-hand smoke in restaurants and other public buildings. Ms. Hawthorne puts it well in suggesting the use of a cleaner alternative to wood burning, as a kindness to others.

People are currently allowed to burn wood in our city, both indoors and outside.  But that privilege deprives others of their right to breathe clean air.  I hope our city can join the progressive jurisdictions that are working to eliminate wood burning from neighbourhoods, to protect our air, and residents’ health.

– Wood smoke pollution photos and information at the website of clean air activist Shirley Brandie ( indicate why the problem of residential wood burning can no longer be ignored by citizens or public officials: