Time to deal with burning issue in city

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (lethbridgeherald.com)  Letters, November 30, 2010

It was interesting to learn that serious concerns and compelling research have been presented to the city about fluoridation. The water we drink is an extremely important environmental health issue. As I wrote recently, I hope our new city council will also consider making positive changes to improve the air we breathe.

I was talking yesterday, November 20, about both issues with a fellow London Road resident who, like many people, has been affected by neighbourhood wood smoke. My family knows how serious that can be. In a previous spring, smoke from a former fire pit next door sent our healthy daughter and me to our family doctor with coughing, chest pain, and decreased lung function. We recall it well as this weekend, a garage wood stove and another chimney nearby have polluted what would otherwise be lovely, crisp, fresh winter air.

Urban wood burning emissions make children unable to breathe clean air while being active outdoors, and force walkers or joggers to breathe toxic fumes while trying to get healthy exercise.

And when smoke is outside, it is inside too. It can make someone sick, or cause someone else to have an asthma attack.

Last Christmas Eve, our son went to bed coughing, with the smell of smoke in his room. On Christmas Day, he had a (fortunately mild) allergic reaction, when heavy outdoor smoke blew in through a register near where he was playing. After reporting via the city’s online feedback form the unacceptable second-hand wood smoke we were then experiencing, I received an email saying that under present bylaws, nothing could be done.

How can our city enforce strong anti-smoking laws, while ignoring equally harmful wood smoke? I think Lethbridge’s current policies regarding urban wood burning are not only poorly informed, but actually irresponsible.

When you smell wood smoke, you are breathing wood smoke. Progressive jurisdictions have already wisely decided that smoke, whether from wood fire pits or new wood stoves, does not belong in neighbourhoods.

A lot of concessions used to be made for smokers. Not so long ago, hospitals had smoking areas, and vehicles came equipped with built-in ashtrays. We wouldn’t think of going backward on advances like local tobacco smoke bans. When it comes to residential wood smoke, is it not time for our city to move forward?