City is failing to protect clean air, wellness


City is failing to protect clean air, wellness

Letter to the editor by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald | Letters, March 31, 2017 (

Recently a Lethbridge senior, who lives in a badly smoke-polluted neighbourhood, left me this phone message:

“I got 15 minutes outside today, before they started burning across the street, and oh, the smoke and the smell … Two doors down, they’ve been getting the wood ready. And one house on the other side – they’re chopping wood. And those are only the ones I can see from my back step. What a way to welcome spring, eh?”

Bylaws permitting anyone to injure people’s well-being actually enable assault and environmental injustice. This is unacceptable in an otherwise caring, socially conscious community.  Our city government must rectify the initial grievous mistake made by a former council that allowed backyard fire pits in late 2006.

Lethbridge’s previous 1991-2006 ban on outdoor burning in the city was much better for the environment. Ironically, that was before climate change was widely understood as the urgent concern that it is – and before air pollution was recognized by the World Health Organization as the world’s single greatest environmental health risk, and a leading global cause of premature deaths and of diseases including lung cancer.

In 2017, our public officials, who protect and beautify our local environment in many other ways, must realize how failing to protect clean air and citizen wellness is uncompassionate and irresponsible. Placing people in harm’s way contradicts Lethbridge’s own Community Vision Statement, and is also counter to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr. Howie Garber, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, has recently pointed out that we no longer allow smokers “to impose tobacco’s health risks on others” and that his state’s “Legislature has no business granting unique sanctuary to anyone thoughtless enough to impose wood smoke’s health risks on others.” As I know Dr. Garber would agree, no city administration has any business harming residents either.

We should consider the approach taken in Vancouver, where only clean fuels can be used for outdoor cooking, and where “Unacceptable Open Air Fires” include any fuelled by wood.

As the City of Vancouver’s official website states:

“Wood burning appliances, such as chimneas and fire pits, are not allowed anywhere on private or public property in Vancouver.”