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ACHD is in process of updating open burning rules

PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:01 pm
by Wilberforce
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Speak up: ACHD is in process of updating open burning rules
Particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are just a few of the unhealthy pollutants found in the smoke drifting off of our campfires and out of our wood-stoves. That list goes on for three pages and, to a camper and marshmallow roaster like me, this is wholly discouraging.

No one wants to see that the warm, fuzzy scene evoked by cozy gatherings around a fire pit may not paint the whole picture. The good news: Taking a minute to understand the risks won't take away your favorite fall pastime altogether.

While campfires always release pollution, there are ways to make them better -- and make them better we must. Wood burning, indoors and out, is on the rise and the health impacts are significant. According to the American Lung Association: "Besides particle pollution, wood burning also produces carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and even toxic air pollution. Studies have found that wood smoke leads to coughing and shortness of breath, decreases in lung function, and aggravated asthma and may even cause cancer."

In many parts of Pennsylvania, where our air routinely receives a failing grade from the American Lung Association and our kids suffer from higher-than-average rates of asthma, burning wood (or, even worse, illegally burning leaves, debris and trash) exacerbates the problem.

Allegheny County currently bans wood burning only on bad air days. The problem with enforcement is, do you know what today's air quality level is? It matters what you burn, how you burn it -- and when.

While we prepare to testify at a hearing in support of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed clean power rule (join us!) and fight to bring big air polluters into compliance with air quality regulations, let's not lose sight of the air closest to home -- in our back yards -- and make sure we aren't part of the problem.

In Allegheny County, the Health Department is in the process of updating its open burning regulations. Now is your chance to speak up in favor of clean air. You can submit public comments through Monday July 7. As they are currently written, the regulations allow for only clean, dry wood to be burned, which will help cut down on smoke and particulate matter but will not eliminate the problem altogether.

PennFuture recommends that in addition to working to reduce pollution from open burning in Allegheny County, more education needs to take place to connect the dots between the air we breathe and our health. Our cities, in particular, struggle to keep particle pollution within a safe range, especially on hot summer days. If you’re considering building a fire outdoors, check the air quality index first to make sure you’re not making a bad day even worse.

Valessa Souter-Kline is PennFuture's western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @ValessaSK.

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