Little progress on wood smoke issue

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald (  Letters – July 27, 2013

Last August, city council decided to look into restricting any outdoor burning to cleaner fuels like natural gas or propane. After several delays the review was scheduled for July. Local officials support anti-tobacco policies. A double-standard on urban wood smoke is not justifiable. Cigarette smoke doesn’t belong near public buildings and playgrounds. Firepit smoke should also not be near a child’s swing or sandbox, or in the room of a sleeping baby – or anywhere people want clean air.

Recently California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) voted to restrict beach firepits. The agency equates the per-minute particulate emissions from one wood bonfire to:

– exhaust from three large diesel trucks or

– second-hand smoke of 800 cigarettes

(From: “SCAQMD Adopts Balanced Measure Governing Beach Bonfires” July 12/13 – … cision.htm)

Changes deemed essential by SCAQMD air quality experts highlight the fundamental error of any municipal bylaw allowing smoky fires within the confines of city backyards.

Federally, provincially and locally, it’s common to hear suggestions about: encouraging kids to be active outside, avoiding smoke, reducing our environmental footprint with choices like open windows instead of air conditioning, lowering emissions, and creating healthy communities. On the issue of unnecessary outdoor wood burning, council members have a chance to help implement such positive actions for the environment and health – rather than condone the outdated status quo while vulnerable residents remain in harm’s way.

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Image source: American Lung Association

Options for firepit users can quite easily include using a cleaner fuel or a non-residential campfire site. Bylaw 5431 must be amended to better support every citizen’s inalienable right to breathe healthy, smoke-free air at home.

In the years since recreational backyard firepits were first promoted by retailers, ongoing research has revealed increasing evidence of air pollution’s adverse impacts on people, animals and our planet. How far have we, as a city, progressed?