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check air-quality alerts before burning wood

PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 10:06 pm
by Wilberforce
Officials urge residents to check air-quality alerts before burning wood

BY Sara Cardine

December 14, 2016

As winter descends on La Cañada and nighttime temperatures dip down closer to freezing, it may be tempting to throw a few logs in the fireplace and bundle up before a warm blaze.

But before you do, regional air quality experts ask you to check whether your neighborhood might be under a no-burn status that prohibits residents from indoor or outdoor burning, and could draw fines and penalties if not properly observed.

For the past six days, non-desert portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, along with all Orange County and most of Riverside County, have been placed under a mandatory wood-burning ban issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to keep particulate matter in check on days when air quality is already unhealthy.

"We've made tremendous progress in cleaning up air pollution in the Los Angeles area. But we still have a lot of work to do," SCAQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said in an interview Tuesday. "We still have among the worst air pollution in the United States."

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The district's winter air pollution prevention program "Check Before You Burn" runs from November through February and issues no-burn alerts by emails and texts to let residents know when they should refrain from fireplace fires or outdoor burning.

Some may consider wood smoke natural or harmless, but air quality officials say the smoke caused by the Southland's wood-burning fireplaces each day can emit more than 5 tons of fine particulate matter (defined as having a diameter of 2.5 microns, 2.5 millionths of a meter, or smaller) that can easily be inhaled, resulting in respiratory and cardiovascular health issues.

Atwood said those emissions amount to more than three times the amount of fine particulate matter emitted from all the power plants in the same area. Such matter is thought to be responsible for an estimated 4,000 premature deaths each year in Southern California.

"When you burn a log in your fireplace, it's open burning. There is no control of the emissions whatsoever," Atwood said. "Most (emission) sources have air pollution controls — one of the few totally uncontrolled sources is the home fireplace."

The "Check Before You Burn" program was made mandatory under the Air Quality Management District's Rule 445, which set guidelines for wood-burning devices and encourages customers to switch to gas-fueled devices.

Under the provisions of that rule, newly constructed residences may not contain wood-burning fireplaces. Businesses that sell wood for burning are required to label that burning may be restricted, referring purchasers to a no-burn telephone hotline.

While the program is intended to educate residents, penalties may be levied against violators, Atwood said. Rule 445 states fist-time offenses could come with a $50 fine or participation in a wood smoke awareness course. Repeat violators could be subject to fines of $150 and then $500 and could be ordered to replace their wood-burning devices with a gas-fueled fireplace.

Atwood said the benefits of complying with the mandate far outweigh any inconvenience.

"It's just a small change in lifestyle during a few days when air pollution is already forecast to be unhealthy," he reasoned.

To learn whether a "no-burn" alert has been issued for your area, call (866) 966-3293. To sign up online to receive automatic alerts, visit More information on the program and incentives available to SCAQMD customers for the installation of gas-fueled devices, visit

Sara Cardine,

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