Analysis: Shifting Priorities on Wood Smoke Burning

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Analysis: Shifting Priorities on Wood Smoke Burning

Postby Wilberforce » Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:33 pm

Analysis: Shifting Priorities on Wood Smoke Burning

Written by David Greenwald Tuesday, 24 September 2013 05:40

It was our initial understanding that the concern for wood smoke burning had to do with the large amount of particulate matter put into the air, particularly on days with little wind movement to blow the smoke particles out of the valley. The result was that air quality management would issue certain no-burn days and the city has, without a huge amount of success, attempted both voluntary and mandatory regulations during those days.

Somewhere in this process the focus has shifted from a global impact of particulate matter in Davis' air to the impact on neighbors - dubbed the nearest neighbor effect.

In October 2012, the city council adopted the Wood Burning Ordinance as a one-year pilot. It would set criteria for no-burn days, provide the city with the ability to enforce those days, and collect data.

The council specifically made the ordinance complaint-driven, meaning once again that it became a matter of policing neighbors who were causing a nuisance. The ordinance, recognizing enforcement limitations, also focused on public education and creating metrics to assess the issue.

The results were not overwhelmingly encouraging: there were 16 no-burn days, 23 complaints were logged by 11 individuals, 8 letters were sent to property owners, two addresses were forwarded to code compliance with one notice of violation, and eight smoke detection logs were sent to the NRC.

The city argued that the number of days were lower than expected, but that simply might have been a function of last year's weather patterns. They also indicated that the $5000 budget was fully utilized and would not be adequate to address more days or code enforcement actions. Staff writes, "Complaints were received for eight individual properties, indicating that wood smoke impacts are considered a negative issue in a few localized parts of town and not a Citywide problem."

But that analysis might be lacking. After all, if we are arguing that wood smoke is a component of air pollution, people normally do not complain about smog, but it may well impact people's health, and at times in ways that are not immediately evident.

As we know from previous articles by both Alan Pryor and Matt Williams of the NRC, the NRC has re-worked the ordinance, arguing that it was "cumbersome and ineffective" and concluding that it "should not be continued in its current form."

However, the NRC moves even further in the direction of "nuisance complaints" to be made by affected residents, arguing "the problem is not a Citywide concern."

The NRC would "eliminate the application of the ordinance only on declared 'no burn' days to acknowledge that complaints from residents also occurred on days when there were no restrictions on wood burning,"

They would continue to "provide incentives for residents to convert to EPA compliant wood burning devices to improve long-term emissions from residential property." And they would eliminate the exemption based on economic hardship.

Staff argues that by not limiting the days when restrictions apply, the cost would increase greatly to enforce the nuisance ordinance.

Staff concurs with the conclusions reached by the NRC, but believes that a nuisance ordinance would present a number of challenges legally and from an enforceability standpoint.

They argue that visible smoke might be difficult or impossible to determine at night. They additionally argue, "The ordinance requires the complaining party live within 300 feet of the offending 'wood burning source.' Clarity on how the measurement is taken would be required (e.g. the property line, the limits of the structure(s), or the location of the stove/fireplace/chimney). The distance would be difficult to verify in the field absent surveying instruments and proper training on those instruments. This presents a time consuming, and potentially cost prohibitive effort for enforcement staff."

The twenty minute requirement is a problem as well, as it "will require enforcement staff to spend a minimum 20 minutes on the scene, in constant surveillance of the offending, visible smoke for that 20-minute period. That is a labor intensive undertaking and would be impractical to provide staff to survey multiple properties at any given time."

"Without entering the home, the enforcement staff would have no knowledge of the facts of these matters. Without first-hand verification of the fuel and wood burning device, enforcement action could not be taken," staff argues.

In short, staff believes that many of the enforcement difficulties that were identified a year ago but avoided in the previous ordinance would come into play.

Staff therefore reaches a different recommendation. Staff states, "The best approach would be to amend the existing Nuisance Abatement Ordinance to incorporate offensive smoke and odors as a specifically identified public nuisance."

Staff also argues, "The pilot Ordinance last year demonstrated there is not a wide spread concern about wood smoke, that it is a nearest neighbor impact in a small number of neighborhoods, that the language presents enforcement challenges, and that enforcement costs could go up significantly."

While we recognize that, we are concerned that staff and the NRC are missing the bigger picture.

A 2009 study of the impact of wood smoke in the San Joaquin Valley, for example, expressed "concern over the health effects from residential wood burning," arguing that in some communities "wood smoke can comprise 20 to 80 percent of ambient particulate pollution. Wood smoke consists of several pollutants, including: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter (or PM), and other irritating and toxic components."

The study adds, "Residential wood burning affects ambient and indoor air quality locally, throughout neighborhoods and regionally. In addition to the smoke that can be released inside the home, studies show that up to 70 percent of smoke from chimneys can actually reenter the home and other neighborhood dwellings (1). In the winter, we often have weather conditions that cause stagnant air. As a result, wood smoke is trapped close to the ground."

The key question from these studies is whether the impact of wood smoke particulate matter would require the individual to be cognizant of the impact. While there are clearly sensitive people who are impacted immediately by wood smoke, this ordinance would appear only targeted to those groups and not the wider impacts.

As the staff report notes, "The NRC recommendation acknowledges that this issue is a nuisance-type issue and that they didn't believe the pilot ordinance was effective. Recognizing that the City already has a well-defined nuisance abatement ordinance and procedures, which include escalating penalties for non-compliance, staff believes it would be more effective to amend the existing ordinance to allow residents to address the nearest neighbor problem."

They continue, "Staff believes that the proposed revision would institute a means by which neighbors that are adversely affected by gross offenders of wood burning smoke could seek remedy with the support of the City."

They add, "The provision would apply to smoke, irrespective of the fuel source, and irrespective of whether it was being generated inside or outside. As with any nuisance complaints, the offense must be verified by City staff, which would likely be a combined effort of code enforcement and Police acting in cooperation."

Furthermore, staff writes, "The violation must be confirmed to be detrimental to the 'typical person,' and readily substantiated as being offensive enough to cause enforcement action by the City (a test of reasonableness). While those who may be hyper-sensitive to certain amounts of wood smoke may not find full satisfaction with a nuisance based provision, staff believes that this approach would provide adequate remedy for most circumstances, where the violation is clearly causing a nuisance."

Staff also recommends including provisions for foul odor (often associated with burning or other nuisance violations such as improper disposal of waste) and light/glare (such as flood lights shining into residential windows).

In short, staff seems to be going in the direction of turning this into a nuisance issue similar to the noise ordinance.

We recognize that this may well resolve the issue for individuals with complaints, but we are left uncertain as to whether this is really addressing the wider concern of wood smoke as a source for air pollution in the region and in our community.

---David M. Greenwald reporting

source ... Itemid=205
• 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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