Biomass report raises concerns

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (  Letters – November 13, 2011

Fuelling a Biomess, a Greenpeace Canada report released Nov. 2, raises important concerns about the use of forest biomass for energy on a large scale, and explains how it is not the carbon-neutral, clean and green fuel that governments and industry have claimed. The report warns of adverse impacts for the climate, our forests, and the health of people, if the current trend toward biomass projects, such as escalating pellet production (and associated deforestation) continues.

I think that pollution and health hazards of industrial biomass burning outlined in the report apply to residential and commercial wood burning as well. In Lethbridge and other cities that, according to the World Health Organization, have clean air overall, some residents can still be forced to breathe air that is unhealthy, if they live or work near a source of localized pollution like a wood fire pit, wood stove or fireplace, or wood-fired oven. Neither can the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) protect people in wood burning neighbourhoods from wood smoke, one of the most harmful forms of air pollution.

Will Greenpeace Canada’s new report help encourage provincial and federal governments to avoid rushing to support the bioenergy boom? Instead of the burning of trees, governments may instead invest more in truly clean, renewable forms of energy. By extension, could the report’s challenges to pervasive wood-burning myths perhaps help more municipal leaders and citizens across Canada to also recognize residential wood burning as a serious health and air quality issue? In our own and other communities, might new and better policies (including, hopefully, proactive bans preventing wood smoke in neighbourhoods) be on the horizon?

Video: “Biomess” – Greenpeace Canada