Outdoor wood burning is more than a fire risk. It is also a public health risk – and it simply should not be permitted in residential neighbourhoods, where everyone is sharing the air.

– Greater public awareness of the health effects of wood smoke in residential areas is an important part of creating a much-needed positive change.  

Image source: Facebook | City of Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services; January 29, 2015.

Image source: Facebook | Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services; January 29, 2015.

Article link:  “The impact of wood smoke on children, neighborhoods” by Dr. David Pepper, a physician and American Lung Association volunteer  http://napavalleyregister.com/news/opinion/mailbag/the-impact-of-wood-smoke-on-children-neighborhoods/article_573eaf04-0003-11df-9dd1-001cc4c03286.html

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“When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions.”

– Atifete Jahjaga

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All smoke, whether it comes from a lit cigarette or the burning of any wood, is harmful, and health advisories do need to be included whenever the issue of wood burning is mentioned on City websites and in other publications.

While hopefully working toward implementing preventive bans on unnecessary urban wood burning, the City can help to protect public health now by strongly recommending the avoidance of burning wood in residential areas.  Reasons for prohibiting all avoidable outdoor wood burning in neighbourhoods include the fact that, as Dr. Pepper writes in the article linked above:

For asthmatic children, breathing wood smoke can lead to immediate harm, including asthma attacks and respiratory distress.”

But earlier today (January 29), instead of helping to raise awareness about the importance of smoke-free air for all, the City of Lethbridge – City Hall Facebook page chose to hide from public view the comments shown in the photo below, and hid or deleted others, which included one of the page’s own, and several helpful comments and replies that people had contributed about the health impacts of outdoor wood burning.

Deleted/hidden comments included one by an Alberta resident who had shared that:

. . . I’ve spent many times with a rescue inhaler and even had to leave my own home to recover from the neighbour’s wood smoke.”

Why would the City of Lethbridge not include health warnings on a post that condones any outdoor wood burning within the city’s residential areas?  And why would the City of Lethbridge – City Hall censor from its Facebook page relevant facts, information and well-expressed thoughts – even an excerpt from an article by a physician – on an issue that negatively impacts public health? Instead of practicing unfair and inappropriate censorship, the City should welcome meaningful discussion and information-sharing on an issue like the right of children and others to breathe clean air!

Rather than press “Delete” or “Hide” on factual and constructive comments, the City needs to help inform the public that:

 Breathing these particles can literally shorten life and send our most vulnerable residents to the emergency room.”  [- Dr. David Pepper, MD, “The impact of wood smoke on children, neighborhoods.”]

Image source: Facebook | City of Lethbridge - City Hall, January 29, 2015

Image source: Facebook | City of Lethbridge – City Hall.  These and other comments were, by the time of this writing on January 29, deleted or otherwise hidden from public view on the City of Lethbridge – City Hall Facebook page.

Below is the same post as it now appears to public view on the evening of January 29, 2015, with all references to concerns about, and information on, health risks associated with outdoor wood burning removed.  . . . Why?

Image source: Facebook | City of Lethbridge - City Hall; January 29, 2015. Post URL: https://www.facebook.com/cityoflethbridge/posts/849891875052338

Image source: Facebook | City of Lethbridge – City Hall; January 29, 2015.

What is clear is that suppressing or concealing – or even simply avoiding – facts about the harm caused by smoke does not protect the health of people.  In an era of strong anti-smoking policies, municipalities need to actively encourage and support a move away from burning wood in residential areas, in the interests of citizens’ health.  Positive change toward better clean air protection is needed now, and greater public awareness is an essential part of that change.

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