Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (lethbridgeherald.com) Letters – January 22, 2013
In December, the EPA announced tighter regulations on soot, a component of particulate matter. Health professionals and environmental/health groups have welcomed the change, with some calling for a more stringent policy. For people concerned about air issues including residential wood burning (in many places a key source of soot) the general shift is encouraging.
The American Lung Association, which took part in previous legal action compelling the EPA to improve air standards, advocates, in its 2012 “State of the Air” report, ongoing efforts by government, industries, and individuals to address various pollution causes, including firewood combustion. Page 10 of the report advises:
“Don’t burn wood or trash. . . . convert your wood stoves to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions.”
In populated areas, wood fires can force neighbours to close windows in summer, or turn furnaces below comfortable temperatures in winter – often using added electricity to run air filters – while still the hazardous particles come in.
Much can be done to help lessen soot emissions. Federally, wood-burning product marketing should be held to the same standards governing the tobacco industry, with equally tough advertising restrictions and health warning label requirements. And municipalities, in addition to preventive bans on activities like outdoor wood burning, ought to have ways enabling residents impacted by fireplace or wood-stove smoke to notify authorities and have it stopped.
Smoke is a risk even for healthy people, and it takes only a brief exposure for some to suffer harm. Reductions in particle pollution result in longer life expectancies and lower rates of heart attacks, strokes, and conditions like chronic bronchitis and asthma, thereby benefitting public wellness and lowering health-care system costs.
Advances like the EPA’s new stricter soot rules, and current Lung Association recommendations, I think underscore the need for greater awareness and stronger political will, action, and accountability toward ensuring that the air we breathe is always healthy.