Permitting outdoor burning a mistake that needs to be corrected

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald ( Letters – March 16, 2014IMG_0056

The Feb. 25 Herald article “Firepits won’t be banned; some new restrictions” asserts, “No city in Alberta – and few across the nation – have actually banned firepits, despite concerns about smoke and its effects on neighbours with respiratory problems.”

But unlike the right to breathe clean air, residential outdoor burning is no inalienable right. Archived Herald reports show that it was strongly opposed by city officials not too long ago, and banned in 1991 – “Council cool to open burning proposal” (May 18/93) and “Council douses open burning” (May 26/93).  A public notice in the April 22, 2000 Herald reminds citizens that under Bylaw 4489, “Open burning of any materials in an open area is not permitted within the City of Lethbridge.”



Lethbridge Herald Archives, May 18, 1993



Lethbridge Herald Archives, May 26, 1993



Lethbridge Herald Archives, April 22, 2000









That fairly recent ban made sense. The newest bylaw (5858), and our fire chief’s recommendation of a weak “co-operativeapproach,” make no sense at all. Cities need less avoidable pollution, not more.

I understand that numerous municipalities [currently] prohibit outdoor wood burning, as within residential zones of Ontario cities including Brampton, Burlington, Hamilton, Windsor, and Oshawa; and B.C. communities like Abbotsford, Kelowna, Port Coquitlam, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, Victoria and Vancouver.

Do officials take a co-operative approach to the smoking of clean, dry tobacco near city-owned playgrounds?




Lethbridge’s Parks Bylaw 5651 prohibits smoking near city-owned playground equipment.


Is smoking condoned near clinics, schools, stores, and on restaurant patios, if wind speeds are below 30 km per hour, and if smokers try to smoke “responsibly” and “considerately”? As California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District announced last year, an average wood-burning firepit emits as many fine particles – per minute – as 800 cigarettes. Burning clean, dry wood emits over 100 toxic substances, including PAHs, VOCs, and large amounts of soot and CO2.



(The above document is from the linked PDF file of the City of Lethbridge’s Bylaw 5431, which replaced the previous Bylaw 4489.)

In 2006 when the city repealed Bylaw 4489 and catered to burners with Bylaw 5431*, climate change and global deforestation were not yet widely recognized as urgent concerns, and it wasn’t yet well known that particulate matter is linked to autism, children’s ear infections, asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD, heart attacks, strokes, harm to unborn babies, and cancer.

Times change, and laws should keep pace. Permitting outdoor wood burning in Lethbridge was a major mistake that has to be fixed, both for the health and safety of individuals, and for the greater good.


* In March 2014, Bylaw 5858 replaced Bylaw 5431, allowing for even longer hours of harmful and completely needless outdoor wood burning pollution.