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Wood-burning ban is key part of larger solution

PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:35 pm
by Wilberforce
Op-ed: Wood-burning ban is key part of larger solution
By Matt Pacenza
First Published 6 hours ago • Updated 6 hours ago

Beginning on Jan. 1, residents of northern Utah have an opportunity to weigh in on a bold state proposal to confront the dangerous wintertime inversions that plague our valleys: A proposed wood-burning ban.

The plan, which will face a vote by the Air Quality Board in a few months, would ban wood burning in much of seven northern Utah counties from November to March. The public can comment on the proposal from now until Feb. 9.

Wood smoke may be just one cause of the unhealthy emissions that blanket our valleys, but research shows it’s a significant source of fine particle pollution, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants, all of which pose health concerns.

Interestingly, while polls show that Utahns want bolder action on air quality, many have expressed reservations about the proposed burn ban. Some suggest that Gov. Gary Herbert is deliberately ignoring the bigger problem of industrial pollution while instead mandating that ordinary Utahns sacrifice. Others protest that burning wood is an environmental choice, arguing that trees are a renewable source.

Both perspectives are understandable, but wrong. The Herbert administration’s wood-burning proposal deserves our full support.

Anyone who studies northern Utah’s air pollution reaches an inescapable conclusion: We must reduce emissions from every sector. Emissions from cars, trucks and all vehicles are the biggest source of pollution. The good news is that federal "Tier 3" standards for cars and gas, along with a growing number of people moving into our urban cores and embracing transit, cycling and walking, will significantly reduce vehicle emissions in coming decades.

The next biggest source of emissions is buildings. This includes the pollutants put out by hot water heaters, boilers and furnaces in hundreds of thousands of homes, office complexes, malls and other buildings. And, yes, it includes wood smoke, from those homes that burn wood either for heat or ambience.

Lastly comes the emissions put our by our biggest polluters, including the various Kennecott facilities, the valley’s five refineries and several dozen other "point sources," including a natural gas power plant, a steel mill and factories that make consumer and industrial products.

Each of these sources must be addressed. Those who zero in on just one miss the point: With the valley’s population and economy growing rapidly, a long-term solution requires bold initiatives across the board. It requires the cleanest possible cars. The most expansive and accessible transit system. Strict building codes. An embrace of clean technologies to limit emissions from hot water heaters and furnaces.

And it requires tough, strict controls on industrial polluters. Later this year, HEAL and our allies will ask the Air Quality Board to close existing loopholes in the rules that regulate emissions from our biggest polluters. We hope the Herbert administration will also back those. Just as Herbert is boldly backing a wood-burning ban to sharply limit one key source of dangerous emissions, he must also be willing to support initiatives that require industry to sacrifice.

A wood-burning ban may just be one arrow in a clean-air quiver, but it’s an important one. Study the research on wood smoke, and you’ll see burning wood in densely populated areas is a public health menace, not a pro-environment choice.

Wood smoke produces fine, heavy particles that hover close to the ground. This pollution is worst for the elderly and those with breathing disorders like asthma. But even among young, healthy people, exposure to wood burning decreases lung volume and causes inflammation.

And wood smoke isn’t just a problem for people who burn wood, but also their neighbors. The fine particles are so small they infiltrate even the most well-insulated homes. Studies show that wood smoke pollution levels inside homes reach up to 70 percent of the levels outdoors.

Herbert’s wood-burning ban proposal deserves enthusiastic public support — as do all tough measures that limit dangerous pollution from industry and other sources. To find out more, including a schedule of upcoming hearings on the wood burning ban, please visit

Matt Pacenza is the executive director of HEAL Utah.

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