Let’s speak up for right to breathe clean air

English: Just outside Wheldrake Strong smell o...

“Just outside Wheldrake – Strong smell of wood burning around here, and the smoke can be seen in the picture.” Photo by DS Pugh, via Wikimedia Commons

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (lethbridgeherald.com)  Letters – May 20, 2010

Discussion about second-hand smoke in Alberta has been renewed amid a proposal to make shared outdoor spaces smoke-free, and a new local bylaw would ban smoking in or near city parks. But while it’s good that smoking has declined overall, smoke from residential wood burning has unfortunately become more common.

No less harmful than cigarette smoke, it’s also a form of air pollution that our city and province both need to start restricting. No jurisdiction can become mainly smoke-free if it allows non-essential wood-burning to go on, putting the health of those on the receiving end of drifting smoke at risk.

Recently, I heard from someone whose household has suffered from unwelcome wood smoke in the air, especially when frequent conditions like fog or cool, still air hold the pollution closer to the ground. They’ve had ongoing allergic responses and even episodes of respiratory distress because of the smoke that often comes into their own house.

To help preserve air quality and protect people from second-hand wood smoke, some places have made wood-burning fire pits illegal within municipal limits and also placed restrictions or bans on wood-burning appliances.

In our own city, although most public areas are now tobacco smoke-free, people in wood-burning neighbourhoods cannot avoid wood smoke right at home, if it’s travelling into their backyard or children’s outdoor play spaces, or seeping inside through furnace vents and even closed windows.

I’m sure many residents would consider the removal of unnecessary wood smoke pollution an essential part of helping to create a cleaner and greener Lethbridge — for the present and for future generations. Hopefully, we can look forward to living in a city and perhaps even a province where residents won’t have to breathe unwanted residential wood smoke, wherever they live, work, or are active outside.

It’s possible that if enough concerned citizens speak up for the right to breathe smoke-free air, it could help make a difference, for our health and for the air that belongs to all of us.