Council must rethink backward approach to backyard fires

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Council must rethink backward approach to backyard fires

Postby Wilberforce » Wed Sep 05, 2012 8:47 pm

Luisa D'Amato
Sat Sep 01 2012

D'Amato: Council must rethink backward approach to backyard fires
By Luisa D'Amato

When I started out in the newspaper business, many of my fellow reporters were notorious for smoking on the job. A blue haze of tobacco smoke over your desk was a sign that you were the real deal — along with rumpled clothes, a skeptical mind and a knack for working a good quote out of someone on the phone.

I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t like the filthy air I worked in, but I was the new person and it never even occurred to me to complain.

Times have changed since my first day of work in the 1980s. Air pollution isn’t cool anymore. It’s now illegal to smoke on the job, in restaurants or in a bingo hall. Many municipalities are making it illegal to idle your car as well. Reporters go to the gym on their lunch hours instead of devouring a burger, fries and three cigarettes.

So why is it OK, in Kitchener, to have a backyard fire that sends air pollution straight into the lungs of everyone around? I’m talking toxins here, like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and a variety of volatile organic compounds.

Kitchener council considered this hot topic last week. Swayed by a petition with 2,400 names, a majority of councillors voted to continue allowing backyard fires. A bylaw that gives city residents the right to have a fire 365 days of the year, if they want, will come before council next March for approval.

This is a very controversial issue. Feelings run high in the pro-fire and anti-fire camps. Councillors were trying to compromise. But some things shouldn’t be up for compromise. Kitchener is wrong to allow this, for three reasons:

It’s unhealthy. Even assuming people decide to burn wood, and not garbage, wood smoke causes eye, nose and throat irritations. It makes asthma worse and has been associated with an increase in respiratory problems that send people to hospital, Health Canada says. A 2007 study on wood smoke, published in the Journal of Inhalation Toxicology, concluded that the health effects are similar to the smoke of idling cars and coal-burning power plants.

It’s difficult and expensive to enforce. People who like fires feel entitled to have them, and some disregard the rules. From June 25 to August 9, there were 142 complaints about neighbourhood fires and 27 charges laid. Many of these illegal fires happened when there was a city-wide ban on all backyard fires for safety reasons, because of the extremely dry weather. Meanwhile, a city report says complaints about fires happen around the same time that there are noise complaints, overloading enforcement officers. To meet the public’s expectations about prompt responses to complaints, extra staff would have to be hired, which would cost $29,000 more.

It destroys neighbourliness. Bylaws are enforced on a complaints basis. With fires, this creates two problems: It gives people who like fires the idea that they can do what they like and if the neighbours don’t say anything, it’s OK. And conversely, it places a huge pressure on the neighbour who doesn’t like them. Just as I wouldn’t have complained about the cigarettes of my colleagues, most of us would rather avoid upsetting the people next door. But, locked indoors on one beautiful evening after another, resentment can build up. Sometimes, good strict rules, like good fences, make for good neighbours.

Waterloo and Cambridge both ban these fires for good reason. Kitchener council should think this over, one more time. Backyard fires in a city are backward-looking — just like poisonous pesticides on a city park, or second-hand smoke in a coffee shop.

source ... yard-fires
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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