Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (lethbridgeherald.com) Letters – May 30, 2013
On May 15, California’s [South Coast] AQMD (Air Quality Management District) published new data on pollution from beach fire pits.
The report recognizes wood smoke as “a serious threat to public health” and advises, “Health risks can be reduced by switching to gaseous fuels.” Further, in one evening’s burning, a single wood fire pit is “estimated to emit as much PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter] as one Heavy-Duty Diesel Truck driving 564 miles.” www.aqmd.gov/prdas/beachfiremonitoring/beachfireresults.pdf
Do these findings not challenge our own city’s current outdoor burning policy, and some attitudes about wood smoke pollution in general? For example, one local store, part of a large Canadian chain, not only markets wood-burning products, but even supplies free firewood. Instead, wood could be reused or recycled into garden mulch, toys, furniture, and more – saving trees and the air. So much can be done by individuals, business and government to reduce environmental impacts.
On the City of Lethbridge-City Hall Facebook page, this past winter and also recently, a resident shared how unwanted fire pit smoke has affected his family. Wood smoke is unhealthy to breathe and, as a community, we can surely do better than allowing unfair situations to continue indefinitely. Outdoor wood burning is banned in many places, and cleaner alternatives exist that are also less of a fire risk. Would a preventive approach to wood smoke pollution exist everywhere possible, if more officials at all levels of government truly cared about the environment and the health of people? Fortunately, opinions can evolve with time and new information.
Slavery was once seen as acceptable; so was cruel treatment of prisoners and child labourers. Denying women full property rights or political voice used to be condoned right here in Canada. Now, is it really okay that some members of our community, including elderly citizens, people with asthma, and children, are subjected to harmful – and unnecessary – smoke pollution in their neighbourhoods and homes?
As Thomas Paine wrote in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense:
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.”