Why is the BC Lung Association not yet advocating strongly for wood burning bans?

Why is the BC Lung Association not yet advocating strongly for wood burning bans?

Its connection to the Western Canada chapter of the wood burning industry’s largest lobby group is undoubtedly a major part of the reason why the organization has to date provided neither:

  • strong advocacy for complete residential wood burning bans which are essential for protecting clean, healthy, wood smoke-free air – nor
  • helpful pro-clean air public education efforts aimed at raising awareness about the undeniable fact that all wood stoves pollute, including new ones, and that wood burning should not be done in residential/populated areas where cleaner alternatives exist.

Information about wood burning on the BC Lung Association’s website (and even on Canada’s national Lung Association website, unfortunately) is at present not aimed at protecting wood smoke-free air.

Instead, just like the Canadian Lung Association’s misplaced and dangerously outdated advice on how to burn wood, the BC Lung Association website’s present material regarding wood burning pollution conveys the harmful impression that heating with wood – even though cleaner, healthier, non-wood burning alternatives exist  –  is somehow condoned by the organization.  This is no less contradictory than it would be if the organization endorsed purchasing and smoking light cigarettes.  Advising people to “Burn Smart” (instead of advising people to quit burning wood and to choose cleaner heating options) is no more appropriate for a lung health organization than it would be to give smokers instructions on how to “Smoke Smart” (instead of promoting smoking cessation programs.)

  • This screen capture from the BC Lung Association’s website as it appears at the time of writing shows an example of the sort of pro-wood burning material that could just as easily be included in a wood burning retailer’s promotional brochure – such as the contradictory advice to “Burn Smart,” and endorsement of the industry’s wood stove exchange programs that involve exchanging old wood burning appliances for new wood/pellet stoves which produce varying degrees of toxic smoke emissions.  This sort of misguided, pro-wood burning approach, while certainly helpful to the wood burning industry and wood burning retailers, is clearly not in the interests of clean air and lung health protection.
Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 1.08.14 AM

Image source:  https://bc.lung.ca/protect-your-lungs/air-quality-lung-health/wood-smoke | May 2017.  Organizations that are mandated to help protect the environment and public health should be supporting complete health-protecting bans on residential wood burning.  They should not be promoting in any way this major source of harmful air pollution.  Yet far too many environmental and health groups and even some air quality agencies and other government departments are also helping the wood burning industry, by presenting the same sort of promotional material shown here.  The current situation is untenable, and needs to change.  The protection of clean air and public health depends upon it.

 

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When the BC Lung Association’s “Wood Smoke Initiatives” webpage is viewed in the context of how wood smoke and cigarette smoke are similar in composition and equally harmful to health (with wood smoke being even more concentrated than cigarette smoke), the text displayed in the above image is the logical result.  Promoting a “Smoke Smart” message would of course be contrary to the mission of any lung health organization.  Promoting a “Burn Smart” message – which was originally created by the hearth industry as a way to avoid wood burning bans – is no less inappropriate.  It is time for organizations like the BC Lung Association to take a new, positive direction, and to embark upon a completely revised, health-protecting approach, which includes a focus on protecting air that is both tobacco smoke-free and wood smoke-free.

Below is an excerpt from a 2011 industry report that refers to the BC Lung Association’s and even the BC Government’s involvement in the industry’s own effort to respond to what the industry calls the “threats” of “Canadian environmental regulations”:

British Columbia is the threshold for Canadian environmental regulations affecting the hearth industry. The Western Chapter is structured to face those threats thereby protecting the Canadian hearth experience and Canadian industry members.

BRITISH COLUMBIA PROVINCIAL WOOD STOVE CHANGE OUT PROGRAM

Since 2008, the Western Chapter [of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association Canada (HPBAC)] has partnered with the BC [Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport] and the BC Lung Association to support Canada’s largest and longest running wood stove change out programs.”*

– Tom Pugh, Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association Canada (HPBAC) Western Chapter,   HPBAC Annual Report 2011 

HPBAC_2011

* The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) launched the first American wood stove exchange program in 1990 as a way to promote and advance the hearth industry’s business interests.    

The HPBAC 2011 report’s statement quoted above confirms that in 2008 the BC Lung Association and even the BC Government began supporting and endorsing the hearth industry’s wood stove exchange programs in British Columbia – programs that, as the excerpt indicates, form part of the industry’s effort to withstand clean air legislation that would restrict/ban wood burning in Canada.

Inherent in such partnerships with the HPBA/HPBAC is a clear conflict of interests and ethics. 

All Lung Association chapters and government departments should be concerned with upholding the highest possible standard of clean air and citizen health, not with supporting to any degree the profit-driven interests of a polluting industry.  But in British Columbia, since at least 2008, the BC Lung Association and even the Government of BC have actually supported and promoted wood stove-to-wood/pellet stove exchange programs that have enabled continued wood/pellet burning appliance use to harm the environment and public health – while actually helping to fulfill (whether inadvertently or not) the HPBA/HPBAC’s stated aims of “protecting the Canadian hearth experience and Canadian industry members.”

Regarding the serious problem of wood burning pollution, for the BC Lung Association and the BC provincial government – and for the many other North American Lung Association chapters, air quality agencies, and other government departments that have actually become part of the HPBA/HPBAC’s effort to protect and promote the wood burning industry (at the expense of public health protection) – it’s time for a positive change.  Clean air matters. 

EPA wood stove smoke1

Photo by Bill Lewin, 2013 – An example of the kind of smoke pollution that has been inundating a British Columbia neighbourhood for several years. The scene is similar to episodes of smoke pollution occurring all too frequently in other communities across North America and beyond.

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