City has responsibility to protect residents

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald ( Letters – January 23, 2011 Regarding the Jan. 16 letter, “Base wood smoke argument on local numbers” – as with issues like second-hand tobacco smoke and food allergies, perhaps Mr. Forster might consider, with some compassion, people who are at risk. Wood burning does present a threat to the environment and public health, and wood smoke impacts individuals nearby directly, as smoking does in public spaces. Information on the health effects of wood smoke is available from the Lung Association, the Washington State Dept. of Ecology, and similar authorities.

From the first time I heard my daughter coughing late at night because of a wood fire pit, I knew that should not be part of urban life. My children have each had allergic reactions triggered by neighbourhood smoke, and last winter it gave them burning eyes, irritated, stuffy sinuses, frequent sore throats and coughs and me, a pained chest and terrible, chronic cough. Sometimes two or more neighbourhood chimneys were smoking at once. We’ve so appreciated how much better neighbourhood air has been this winter. But on this Monday morning (Jan. 17), we awoke to find smoke blowing in through our registers. In response to my Nov. 11 letter, a resident phoned to tell me about smoke in their neighbourhood, and said at that time that informing the city had not helped.  No one should ever be forced to breathe neighbourhood wood smoke: not one adult, young or elderly; not one vulnerable growing child. I believe that locally this is not an issue of numbers or of lengthy data collection, but of the city’s responsibility to protect residents from harm.

Wood smoke contains harmful compounds and gases, and large amounts of particulate matter. The fine particles cannot be kept outside. Once inhaled, they penetrate deeply into the lungs, where they can injure cells, worsen heart or breathing problems, and may cause permanent damage to lungs. Those are not opinions; they are documented facts.

Cities already have enough pollution, and less-polluting alternatives to wood fires are available. I sincerely hope there is at least one present or future city council member who would advocate protecting clean air, by helping Lethbridge to become wood-smoke free.

Relative Emissions of Fine Particles (Puget Sound Clean Air Agency) | Families for Clean Air

Relative Emissions of Fine Particles – Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (Image from the Families for Clean Air website at